“Sorry You’re Not a Winner”: Bristol Old Vic

Crysse Morrison in south-west England

When Liam leaves his best friend Fletch on an upwardly mobile journey, via Oxford University, neither of them fully realizes how much their friendship will be fractured.

Sorry, You’re Not a Winner, the new play from Samuel Bailey currently touring, was inspired by the playwright’s decision to use a setting he knew well from his own childhood: a housing estate in the Midlands where children grow up together in close friendships.

He admits also to identifying with the painful situation that is the theme and storyline of this drama: one friend stays in the world he knows, but the other strikes out for more: Liam sets off to Oxford, moving away from the drab neighbourhood that limits his options, and leaving behind his best mate Fletch who’s too ready-to-be-rough to ever succeed.

 

Kyle Rowe and Alice Stokoe. Photo credit: Steve Tanner.

 

At the start of this story, the boys are saying goodbye, certain that nothing can shake their ongoing friendship, but Liam quickly finds that Oxford requires another persona, and his new friends have very different values from the ones he’s left behind.

This 90-minute play is about friendship, lost yet enduring, and how hard it can be when you come from a place where success feels a bit like shame. It’s also immensely rich in humour and insights that go beyond social cliches, tightly written, and superbly acted.

Eddie-Joe Robinson is compelling as the clever lad who doesn’t feel comfortable with the Oxford crowd but can’t reclaim his home territory; Kyle Rowe is utterly believable as his irrepressibly reprobate home-town bestie.  The storyline focus is so strong that this feels mostly like a two-hander although the lads’ women are also very well played, especially Shannon (Alice Stokoe) with Katja Quist as posh Georgia.  Also integral to the production’s success is Jesse Jones’ tight but unostentatious direction and Lucy Sierra’s superbly simple set: an immovable environment where doors both invite and bar entry. As a social comment on Unequal Britain, this is unarguably convincing; as a drama it’s mesmeric.

Samuel Bailey won the Papatango Prize in 2019 with his play Shook (chosen from around 1,500 entries) was adapted for an online version during lockdown. His new play is a step forward in concept insofar as the storyline addresses a wider social issue but without being didactic. Production is by Paines Plough and Theatre Royal Plymouth, in association with the University of Plymouth, School of Society and Culture.

 

Kyle Rowe , Eddie-Joe Robinson and Alice Stokoe.
Photo credit: Steve Tanner.