Watching Shook at theSpaceTriplex as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, you get the sense that you are witnessing talent that is going to reach impressive heights. Whether that be from the writing of Samuel Bailey or the raw, emotive performances from the play’s four skilled performers, Shook is an out and out Fringe success.
Shook centres on three inmates at Polmont Young Offender’s Institute: Cain (Kieran Begley), Ryan (Ryan Stoddart) and Jonjo (William Dron) each soon to be a young parent. Taking part in parenting classes covering the basics, courtesy of instructor Grace (Rebecca Morgan), the young men gradually build their relationships and open themselves up to their own vulnerabilities.
Bailey’s play captures three diverse young men at various stages of prison life: Cain, resistant to support, disruptive and feeling caught in a cycle that will lead to continual imprisonment; Ryan, confident, level-headed and studious yet cautious in his lining up of post-prison academia; and Jonjo cripplingly shy and out of his depth in the establishment within which he finds himself. Over the course of the eighty-minute runtime, Shook takes these three figures – from head-butting and confrontational hotheads (particularly in the case of Cain) and establishes an emotive and delicate bond between the three young men. In order to form this bond, the trio must open themselves up to their vulnerabilities with Grace’s class the gateway to these bonds.
Shook captures a raw juxtaposition – the idea of vulnerability and a young offender’s institute can go hand in hand in many regards. Often vulnerabilities and insecurities are the root of the behaviour leading to incarceration in a place which views these very attributes as weaknesses. This core is key to the success of Shook and director Rebecca Morgan captures this with honest direction and natural performances from her cast (including herself). Shook is all the more investing and rewarding for allowing its characters to take their guard down in an environment that is violent, dangerous and subject to a machismo-packed alphamale pecking order – the natural bonds that form between the characters in their safe space (via the parenting classes) within that environment producing glimmers of hope in a dark situation.
With a bold take on masculinity and examination of this in prison culture, Shook delves into refreshingly contemporary takes on gender roles with Grace challenged in this tough prison environment encouraging the boy’s potential. Yet Shook is also an incredibly amusing play with raw, unflinching Scottish humour and a particularly well-pitched turn from Begley who carefully captures the delicate balance of providing a performance that is humorous yet packs an equal amount of emotive depth to his colleagues.
Praise should also be given to Dron who gradually peels back the intriguing layers of Jonjo with a sense of compassionate finesse. The most apparently troubled, Dron has plenty moments to shine, particularly doing so as he delves into the reasons behind the character’s incarceration. The narrative of Shook also allows us to form expectations regarding the ‘steady’ Ryan, something that is subverted as the play progresses with Stoddart’s skilled performance initially leading our expectations down a certain path. Morgan is similarly impressive as the woman steering the ship, yet allowing her own vulnerabilities to quietly shine through in the role of teacher.
Shook is a tremendous piece of raw, emotionally-complex theatre orchestrated perfectly by this skilled cast and crew. Delving into the concept of masculinity, with particular regard to male vulnerability, as well as subversion of traditional gender roles and commentary on the nature of justice, Shook provides a rich amount of food for thought.