Bacon by Sophie Swithinbank takes up residence in Summerhall’s Cairns Lecture Theatre until August 27th this Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This compelling two-hander directed by Matthew Iliffe explores a dizzying melting pot of dynamics of masculinity, power and sexuality, rippling through the lives of Year 10 students Mark (Corey Montague-Sholay) and Darren (William Robinson).
Straight A student Mark has recently arrived at his new high school, leaving his previous one due to continual bullying incidents. There he meets out of control, outwardly confident Darren, who becomes something of a frenemy. The boys form an erratic and intense relationship, both coming to rely on each other – although neither will admit it.
Swithinbank crafts a rich sense of characterisation in Mark and Darren – gradually unpicking elements of their respective stories as the narrative progresses. Whilst the archetypes of preppy, never putting a foot of place Mark and cocky, troublemaking Darren, initially hook us in, Bacon allows these characters to bounce off one another, each gradually unveiling unseen elements of the other with a compelling gradual delicacy. As the dynamic is explored, the intensity of the pair’s relationship grows – this is heightened through the narrative giving each of the characters breathing space to unveil their own inner thoughts and feelings.
Darren’s home life is one of abuse, uncertainty and danger. He brags at school about girlfriends, trips to Barbados and ruling the roost, overcompensating for the desolate, troubling relationship he has with his drug-dealing father. Mark, in contrast, comes from a middle class family – his mother is caring and supportive, crafting a safe environment for him to thrive in. Interestingly in Bacon as Mark and his bubble becomes a safe place for Darren, Mark’s life is thrown into disarray and abuse through his newfound friendship.
Bacon gradually weaves its protagonists’ discovery of their sexuality with an impressive ease. Lingering looks between Mark and Darren lead to meetings at the park and hanging out at school. Mark’s world is flipped upside down by Darren – intoxicated by his presence. Bacon hits its audience with a slow-burn depiction of the abusive behaviour being inflicted on wide-eyed Mark in a gradually devastating manner – capturing a cycle repeated from Darren’s troubled home life. Swithinbank’s narrative delves into power dynamics within the relationship and the looming spectre of toxic masculinity in regards to Darren coming to terms with his own sexuality.
Bacon is compelling and at points truly devastating, with Corey Montague-Sholay and William Robinson’s extraordinarily-pitched performances capturing this all-consuming relationship between Mark and Darren. Yet the actors beautifully showcase the comic notes in the script, Mark’s loveable awkwardness and Darren’s faux bravado provide regular moments of humour which further absorb us in the rich, textured beats of Bacon.
The shifting dynamics of Bacon are explored in the staging with a versatile seesawing block housing much of the events. This also reiterates the vulnerable age of both characters, the monochrome seesaw fitting into the setting of something of a desolate playpark.
Masterfully executed by its director and performers, Bacon is deeply affecting watch that will linger with audiences.
Bacon runs until August 27th at Summerhall. Buy tickets here.