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Those of us who are now some distance from our 18th birthday probably remember that era of our lives with a nostalgic sigh. David Watson, being 22, has more recent experience to draw on, and his depiction is not so rosy. For Jonathan, the 18-year-old at the heart of Watson’s new play, the future is precarious. Good A-level grades are predicted, but first he must negotiate a minefield of social, personal and family problems. Dad, a professor, has moved out to take up new interests, one of which is called Rachel. Mum, a social worker, is steeped in the difficulties of other families. Joe, Jonathan’s friend, thinks they should “get on the property ladder” (burgling houses, not buying them). And then there’s Daniel, Jonathan’s 25-year-old brother, who has Down’s Syndrome and has returned home. Who will look after Daniel? Especially when Daniel wants to look after himself.
As Jonathan swings between studying and heaving loot around for Joe, his flight path begins to look uncertain. Watson demonstrates how rocky the transition from childhood to adulthood can be and considers what is meant by adulthood, responsibility, loyalty and independence. Flight Path reminds me slightly of Joe Penhall’s Some Voices in its consideration of how best a brother might help his mentally fragile sibling. It reminds me too of Polly Stenham’s recent That Face in its examination of child and parent roles. But it is its own play and Watson writes with compassion, wit and a keen ear for London patois.
It has flaws, as you might expect of a second play: Watson is over-reliant on interrupted sentences; some scenes seem stilted and older characters do not have much substance. But his main characters are vividly drawn and brought to life in Naomi Jones’s first-rate production (for the Bush and Out of Joint theatre company). Scott Swadkins is impressive as Daniel, Jason Maza exudes nervy aggression as Joe and Ashley Madekwe is sweetly wise as the girlfriend and Cary Crankson is excellent as Jonathan.
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Until October 6; on tour October 9-November 10.