Review of Wearmouth, the Sunderland AFC play by Ben Gettins at The Customs House, South Shields
It lasts less than an hour, but the impact of Wearmouth stays with you for an awful lot longer.
Young Sunderland writer Ben Gettins’ debut play is powerful, poignant, funny – and absolutely brutal. Wearmouth is a staggeringly good first play
It’s blessed by brilliant performances by the highly-experienced Joe Cafferty and relative newcomer Jake Jarrattt. Their multi-layered performances ease through several transitions from excruciating pain to laugh-out-loud humour.
The pair make the most of an emotional, punchy, hard-hitting script full of tough language and tough themes. The dialogue is authentic, real and raw, the characters genuine and instantly recognisable. You’ve met them, you know them.
Joe plays Steven, a dad who blames himself for his teenaged son’s suicide; Jake plays the much younger Luke, who is struggling to come to terms with his own horrific trauma.
The pair meet on Sunderland’s Wearmouth Bridge before and during SAFC home games. There they lay bare their pain and suffering, wondering again and again if ‘this will be the day’ to take their own lives.
They give each other support and affection, Steven becoming the father Luke wants, and Luke giving Steven a chance for parental rehabilitation. But Wearmouth is not preachy or solemn, nor is it pretentious.
It features genuine, north eastern 21st century working-class characters so rarely seen in drama. The stories are real and so are Steven and Luke. They use words, phrases and language that you’d hear everyday in The Bridges or in any Wearside pub or club. Uncensored, unapologetic – and totally sincere.
Wearmouth explores themes of friendship, parenthood, suicide and grief. It does so with a searing honesty that at times is hard to watch. But Ben is true to his characters and a straightforward Mackem approach to life and view of the world.
As Joe and Jake took their final bow, the audience rose as one to give Wearmouth a standing ovation. Many were in tears. It’s good, very, very good.
Wearmouth is the first of two plays brought to the stage through The Customs House’s First Play Club programme. The second play, Grown Up Writin,’ is at the venue this Friday, September 8, and Saturday, September 9.
The Customs House team is to be congratulated on giving both Ben and Grown Up Writin’ writer Louise Powell the opportunity to develop their ideas into fully fledged plays.