Review: Scab at the White Bear Theatre

Tuesday 26th April 2022 at the White Bear Theatre.


Reviewer: Maygan Forbes

Through an exploration of class, loneliness, PTSD, and the after treatment of soldiers once they leave the army, we arrive at Scab. An unexpectedly, poignant and bittersweet one man show that delves into the psyche of a disenfranchised young man searching for a sliver of meaning and hope in a bleak wasteland. The play doesn’t present itself as being beautiful or whimsical, this isn’t a tale of hometown glory – Scab sets itself up from the offset as being dirty, greasy and raw. Conor Lowson plays a combination of characters but whilst existing in the play as many names, his core persona ultimately nameless.

Scab begins with Lowson chugging a few shots of rum before cracking a few bantering jokes with the audience. He uses us as his playground, and plays off the energy of the audience using us as fodder for his own one man comedy show. What starts off as a fun bit of craic shifts to dark as Lowson describes the collapsed body of a pub punter and his head surrounded by blood. A seemingly traumatising event doesn’t appear to phase Lowson as he manages to spin the potentially dead gentleman as more comedy gold. But plot twist! The gentleman isn’t actually dead, and after Lowson assists the man home, what unfolds is a cacophony of events that would shock even the most suspecting audience member.

The writing is superb. What started off as a 15 minute piece performed at a scratch night in North London by the playwright Luke Stapleton, Scab has transcended into this perfectly dilapidated story of two equally lost souls trying to make peace with an internal conflict. Lowson plays the lawless Young wonderer devastatingly well. His performance raises questions as to what exactly a guy supposedly in his 20s or younger, who spends his days drifting, would have in common with an ageing war veteran (Keith) who can balance on his head and speak Creole.

Stapleton weaves societal critiques throughout the narrative and it suddenly it all makes sense. They are both drifters, migrating from place to place in order to fill some type of forbidden void. Keith is consumed with anguish and regret, his home life is both a manifestation of his internal and external world but to the audience, it is clear that his neglect is terminal. An insidious rot that hangs over the play like a bad stench, we know something bad is coming. But it arrives in such a way that keeps us on our toes throughout the performance. The slow burning thrill effect is greatly attributed to Lowson’s superb storytelling.

If any readers are familiar with the TV show Shameless (UK version!) then Stapleton’s Scab falls in line with the short but sharp bursts of excitement that pepper a generally quite bleak and mundane existence. Lowson is used to being on the side of law that is unforgiving for men that look like him and his previous run ins have left him no stranger to the already formed judgements of strangers.

At the beginning I was confused as to why his first reaction to seeing a possibly dead man was to not call the ambulance or the police. In fact, once Keith comes around, there remains a gaping hole in his head that at one point looks like “spongey pudding” (a great descriptor that garnered quite a few “barf” reactions from the audience). At no time is the idea of hospital or further care support mentioned or even hinted at. It’s almost as if Lowson recognises his position as being the perceived villain in society that even in a predicament where he is innocent, red flags are naturally assumed against his favour.

As the play continues, Keith’s head wound eventually turns into a “scab”. However the decay lingers inside him and eventually he is forced to reckon with his own past. The idea of a scab, the physical evidence of a healed hurt almost works in opposition in this play. As the scab clings to the characters. The play was unexpectedly emotional (maybe I’m just a highly sensitive person!) and I was engaged from start to finish. It vehemently highlighted the kindness of strangers, a persons capacity for forgiveness of self and of other people, and the indispensable powers we all hold to affect change in a strangers life. The play was saturated with audience member reactions from start to finish, and Lowson held captive our attention.

Encompass Productions’ Scab plays the White Bear Theatre until April 30th 2022 and you can find your tickets here.

Images credit: Encompass Productions

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