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Review: Coke, Machines, Stars & Kisses at 53Two is ‘full of genuine joy’

53two is riding the crest of a wave at the moment.

Their promise to deliver new writing to audiences longing for fresh and interesting stories is really paying off.

Dare to Know’s Young Love got people talking because the young talent involved delivered and then some.

Coke, Machines, Stars & Kisses at 53Two

And Jake Talbot’s wonderful writing was like a great song, it got stuck in your head and you can see yourself remembering it for a long time to come.

Salford writer and actor John O’Neil’s Coke, Machines, Stars and Kisses is a new piece of work that he originally wrote on his laptop and forgot about it.

He then revisited it and felt that there was something here worth tweaking and getting onto a stage.

It is a queer story about two working-class lads, and it reminds me of Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing, the naturalism and playful dialogue that this classic conveyed are here and it has moments of genuine joy.

It is 3am and in a back garden on a council estate, we see a trampoline and the garden is filled with evidence of the night that was.

John O’Neil and Alexander Townson shine

Dale (John O’Neil) has thrown a party and one stubborn, uninvited guest – Lewis (Alexander Townson) is hanging around like a wasp and refuses to leave.

As these two men begin to talk, they realise that despite their differences, they have a great deal in common.

Dale left the estate and headed to London for his degree and lived out his life, as a confident gay man.

Lewis, meanwhile has stayed put.

But they both have their interests, which others might see as a tad geeky.

Dale loves computer programming and Lewis talks passionately and excitedly about repairing bikes.

He loves to fix something old and turn it into something new.

This is really apt because in the past he has considered going with a lad, instead of a girl.

He is straight but it has crossed his mind as a young boy. Now, here he is faced with someone who is out and proud of his past and they are getting along.

But is it the cigarettes, drugs and alcohol, or is this something real?

Queer Stories

Queer stories are often tinged with trauma and even though these stories need to be told, there is something truly welcoming about something which simply celebrates being working class and queer, as opposed to dwelling on the shit that someone has to deal with.

Sometimes, that can come across as misery porn.

They each have a past but they are living very much in the present.

Coke, Machines, Stars and Kisses could go down the usual trope of straight guys wanting to experiment but not being able to face up to the fact that they are closeted.

But there is something more fluid at play here because Alexander Townson’s Lewis exudes confidence and he has a swagger about him.

He loves to be loved, looked at and admired.

But inside, he is in awe of Dale for living his life the way he chooses and for ‘getting out.’

Dale – meanwhile – loves the fact that Lewis is a guy of contradictions; a lad’s lad at school works with motors, yet loves star gazing.

George Miller’s lighting design

George Miller’s skilful lighting design works wonders here, as we see the sun coming up and it gives the conversations a sense of time and place.

It also means that we see this friendship develop in a short space of time.

It also aids the chemistry between these two actors, as they realise there might be a spark of something more, amongst the empty cider cans and coke debris.

I loved the natural and easy dialogue, as it feels as if you have dropped into this after-party yourself and you are watching things develop, from another vantage point.

For such a short play, these characters are fully realised.

Towards the end, when Dale begins to open up, the resolution does feel a bit rushed.

And I think there is a longer play here, as I could have watched more and spent more time with these two quite happily.

At 53two you can see the whites of people’s eyes, so there is nowhere to hide for the actors.

Director Chris Hoyle knows this and he directs with a real lightness of touch, allowing the writing to do the talking.

But where he excels in getting the actors to have fun with the material and the contrast between the trampoline scenes and their revisiting of the past, highlights the need to embrace what you have and who you are.

This means you do not leave the theatre feeling miserable at yet another doom-and-gloom queer story.

It is the opposite, as the sun comes up and John O’Neil’s Dale jumps for joy on the trampoline, you feel the same amount of exuberance and optimism because you have seen new writing worth telling ‘our kid’ about.

Coke, Machines, Stars & Kisses was on for two nights only over Pride weekend and has sadly finished.

But if you want to see more exciting new work, visit 53two’s website and sign up to their mailing list.

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