Preview: Thrasher

Conor McKee’s exploration of human relationships has the ingredients for a thought-provoking night at the theatre, says Helen Nugent

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First seen in 2011 at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Studio, Thrasher is nearing the end of a national tour that has included performances in Hull, Preston, Sheffield, Bury and Ellesmere Port. Now this darkly comedic show about self-destruction can be seen at the Carriageworks in Leeds.

Director and Manchester Evening News award winner Wyllie Longmore explains the heart of writer Conor McKee’s play.

“Conor has an interest in how relationships are formed and how they are sustained. Often pressure comes from within the relationship, often from the outside. How do you maintain a vibrant relationship with another human being when the pressure is so great?”

A complete sell-out at its 2011 Royal Exchange premiere and at London’s Camden People’s Theatre, Thrasher revolves around the lives of six very different people. We meet Lee and Jenny fanning the flames of their dying relationship, Colin and his nasty girlfriend Vic, and God-bothering Chloe. Then there’s Frank, who sits at home listening to voice messages from a former lover.

Manchester-based McKee describes Thrasher as a multi-plot drama which, like his other scripts, has undergone a lengthy process of development.

“For me, part of the progression of the play, particularly as a writer starting out, is learning from the premiere and the tour,” he says. “This time, there has also been the opportunity to expand the development work we do with the play and with new writers.”

In addition to his role as a playwright, McKee delivers writing workshops and seminars. Together with Longmore, he founded Script4Stage, a writer and director development programme that trains artists in the script methods used by the pair. For Thrasher, he has taken this one step further and invited local playwrights at each venue to share in the writing experience.

“This time we have done an in-response scheme,” says McKee. “The writers will have seen snippets of the play which are designed to excite them as to what might happen in it.”

Using these extracts as inspiration, each of the participants writes a short play that is then workshopped by the company and given a public reading at the venue prior to the main show. Ticketholders for Thrasher are welcome to arrive early to see the work.

Longmore believes that writers and audience members alike will be impressed by McKee’s language.

“Conor writes very slender dialogue,” he says. “Often the lines aren’t telling us what the characters mean. The script invites you to go deeper into the characters. He gives you text that is very slender in terms of wordage, but a character will suddenly divulge something that has been brewing throughout the play. That attracts me to the work.”

This time around, three of the cast are from the original staging (including former Hollyoaks actor Darren Langford) while three are new to the project.

The score remains the same – haunting music from composer Michael Cretu – as do the central themes.

Thrasher is a fast paced drama that drives the characters to very dangerous, life changing decisions. We see what each one would do or not do in order to escape their situation,” explains the playwright who is also busy working on new work.

“I have another play in development called Home,” says McKee. “It’s the same in that it’s the exploration of relationships but in Thrasher the characters go out into the city to face them. With Home they stay in.”

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