Review: Soapbox Racer at Alphabetti Theatre

Review: Soapbox Racer at Alphabetti Theatre

Soapbox Racer by Ben Schwarz – Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne – 4th May 2023

I have been spoilt this week with some amazing performances and this one this evening had parallels with ‘Protest’ which I saw at Northern Stage on Tuesday night in that the story was told from the point of view of a young girl. Unlike the former performance, this was a solo effort describing the angsts a teenager was feeling following a break-up with her boyfriend, Rory and the departure of her mother. 

The story is told within the narrative of the ongoing creation of a soapbox to enter into the upcoming Soapbox Derby at Herrington Park. The action takes place in Katie’s garage which was very effectively re-created in the intimate performance space at Alphabetti Theatre. I have been in this venue a few times now and it never ceases to amaze me how creatively and ingeniously this performance area is used and tonight was no exception. Ali Pritchard and John Rainsforth have between them created what is undeniably the inside of a garage replete with the sort of items you may expect to find in such a space like folded up garden chairs, a discardedTV/Video combo, etc. The lighting also added to the performance adding some layers and drama to the increasing tension from Katie as she wrestles with her conscience about lying to her father about the real motives for building her soapbox racer, her anger at the fact she blames him for her mother leaving and her annoyance at her long-time best friend pinching her boyfriend and having beautiful long hair down to her bum.

The performance from Katie (Harrison Rowley-Lynn) was nothing short of miraculous given the verbose nature of the script and knowing that the audience could see what she was meant to be saying with the accessible subtitles being provided throughout the hour long single act show. I am sure she will be delighted that I can happily confirm that she was 99% spot on and even when she did deviate from the titles it did not affect what was a superb performance. Katie is thoroughly likeable even when she finally lets her father know her feelings about her mother leaving and gives it to him, figuratively, with both barrels. Rowley-Lynne glides effortlessly between the characters she is portraying and gives life to her father, the somewhat common woman down the road who has a penchant for being outdoors in her slippers, her teacher, her ex-boyfriend, Rory, and particularly her long-time friend, a rather posh girl with a great figure, gorgeous hair and Rory. 

The script is very well written by Ben Schwartz and offers a quite delightful journey through Katie’s feelings as she is plotting to get her boyfriend back from the clutches of his new girlfriend with a grand and dramatic gesture. The story arc is particularly effective as the rules of the game are read out one by one as a voiceover and provides pitstops in a journey which takes out hero from confidence in her quest, through acceptance that she cannot do it on her own, via realisation that her boyfriend is not the smart upstanding boy she pictures in her head, through a meltdown of insecurity arriving at an epiphany that she really does love her father in an emotional rollercoaster.

We are warned about some strong language and sexual references at the start of the performance and they are there but none of it is out of place within the context and it provides some deftly placed comedy within the story which Rowley-Lynne delivers with some skill. She also offers carefully considered pauses, beats and tempo changes to her delivery of the many lines in the script which I must also attribute to the accomplished direction of Rosie Bowden. 

Soapbox Racer is a delight from the opening announcement to the very satisfactory conclusion and is well worth a watch before the beautiful soapbox is taken into the pitstop and dismantled for the final time on 13th May. 

Soapbox Racer runs until 13th May 2023 at Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne with tickets available from £3-£15. There are relaxed performances at selected performances and subtitles are provided at all performances between now and the end of the run.

– Stephen Stokoe

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