Theatre review: Territory

TERRITORY

SPACES ON THE MILE @ THE RADISSON (VENUE 39)

REUBEN Johnson has achieved something very tricky here: he's written a play about the consequences of knife crime that is gritty and powerful without being patronising.

Maybe it helps that Johnson himself is only 19 and claims that without his involvement with youth theatre projects he himself would have ended up hanging out with the wrong crowd and getting into the sort of mess that the characters here do. Either way, from one so young this is frighteningly accomplished.

Not content with writing and producing, Johnson himself also leads the 12-strong cast, drawn from current students at Chiswick's Arts Educational School. He plays Ashley, a high-school pupil from the Salford area of Manchester who acts the hard-man in front of his friends to conceal the pain of his mother's death.

Ashley, excluded from school, heads to the woods to drink and take drugs with his teenage mates. There he encounters his friend's brother, Jamie, a relatively worldly-wise twentysomething down from university and back on home turf. Naturally this cultured interloper becomes the centre of attention, the younger lads in awe of his sophistication and comparative experience with women.

In turn, Jamie takes pity on his admirers, and stands up for Ashley when Kieran, the self-styled school tough guy, stumbles into the group and takes exception to Ashley's boasting, attempting to get a rise and start a fight with him.

When punches are exchanged between Kieran and this charismatic stranger in town, a tragic chain of events is set in motion that ultimately results in a blade being drawn, and the chalking up of another casualty of Britain's knife crime epidemic.

Johnson's writing, in what is essentially a morality play, is raw and heartfelt. When its short Festival run is over, this play will doubtless be an effective tool in educating schoolchildren about the dangers of peer pressure and carrying knives, and, because it strives so hard never to talk down to its intended audience, it carries a message that stands a very good chance of actually being heard.

MATT BRERETON

Until 22 August. Today 7:05pm