Sixteen-year-old Jimmy is sulking in the safe (yet smelly) confines of his bedroom in Sheringham, Norfolk. He is desperate to escape his mundane, small-town existence. He wants to experience the thrill of city life – he wants to go to London. But more importantly, he wants to see Morrissey at the O2. After unsuccessfully trying to steal the money he needs, Jimmy decides to ‘choose adventure’ and runs off to London anyway, penniless and ticketless. Writer-performer James McDermott’s semi-autobiographical play follows his attempt to get to the gig.
However, the path to London does not run smooth. Jimmy comes across a multitude of eccentric characters, from the girl with the beautiful eye-smile, to the bear from Grindr, to the girl with the Adam’s apple, who all help him on his journey – both to get to the gig in time and also to discover a little more about himself. Rubber Ring is a sweet story – and in no way is that a bad thing. It contains the right balance of humour and vulnerability, and avoids straying into over-sentimentality, which it could have done easily.
The set is simple: spotlit chair on a bare black stage. But when McDermott walks on, a whole world is brought to life. He has a natural flair for storytelling and holds the audience safe in the palm of his hand, with his vitality and warm address. He switches easily between each of the characters, delineating them with a small difference in voice or physicality. Each part is so precisely written that it often feels as though more than one person is onstage.
McDermott’s writing is sardonic, outrageous, hilarious and honest. The whole piece is so jam-packed with jokes that the audience is nearly always laughing; however, the down side of this is that McDermott sometimes misses a beat, losing gems by speaking too quickly or over the audience laughter. Towards the end, the implausibility of every coincidence and unlikely opportunity in the plot becomes a little wearing. And it is a great shame that the play peters out into a whisper; it is so full of life and energy throughout, I would have liked to see it go off with a bang.
Nevertheless, this is an incredibly assured debut, competently directed by Siobhan James-Elliott. Rubber Ring is a bit like a warm, all-inclusive hug and it is impossible to leave without a feeling of elation. This is a play that celebrates every person for being exactly who they are, and it’s funny to boot – what’s not to love?