“Waiting for something to happen so you can go and tell everyone what a state my mum is?”
The Almeida Theatre has long been developing links with a younger audience through its Almeida Projects programme and Crawling in the Dark is their seventh play that has been especially commissioned for young people. Writer Natalie Mitchell has created a response inspired by the show currently playing in the theatre, David Eldridge’s The Knot of the Heart and its examination of how personal responsibilities and family relationships are affected by substance abuse, but shifting the focus onto the teenagers in the family. Living on an Islington council estate, Amber and Nathan are reunited with their hard-partying mum Liz after a while staying at their grandparents. It soon becomes clear though that her behaviour masks a much darker secret and the huge weight of caring for their mother and trying to conceal the truth of what she is up to falls on the too young shoulders of these two.
Kellie Bright as Liz struggling to deal with her drug habit whilst caring so very deeply for her kids was heartbreakingly good, a sympathetic portrait of a mother unable to extricate herself from the tangles of addiction. Along with Tahirah Sharif and Michael Lewis, a believable family dynamic was created from the outset, the easy familiarity with each other utterly convincing making their struggle all the more poignant. Sharif as excelled as the older of the siblings, carrying more of the burden but the weight of the responsibilities pushing hard on her and threatening her burgeoning relationship with the compassionate Freddie, played with charm by Tobi Bakare. Michael Lewis’ younger and consequently less able to adjust Nathan was also well-played, acting out in school and hungry for stories of happier times and family memories to cling onto.
It is no secret that I wasn’t a fan of The Knot of the Heart at all, so I was a little hesitant about this show at first, but I found it to be far superior in the end. The stronger emphasis on personal responsibility made Crawling… much more accessible and believable and the directness of Mitchell’s writing, although ostensibly for a younger audience, made for a much more refreshing and honest-feeling experience. Michael Buffong’s direction also made better use of the revolving set and the pulsing soundtrack of 90s choons kept things moving nicely. And it was also interesting to see how an almost wholly teenage audience responded to the play, much more vocally forthcoming about what stimulated them and most fascinating to see the points at which they felt lines had been crossed.