Sorry, You’re Not a Winner review – gripping story of social mobility | Theatre


Fletch and Liam have been best friends since they were six. But tomorrow, Liam is off to Oxford University. “I’m your mate,” Fletch tells him. “That should mean something. That should mean you don’t just leave.”

We are introduced to the 18-year-olds in a car park in Worcester at the height of their platonic love story. With boyish ease, they spring from the two grey doors on Lucy Sierra’s set and playfully discuss the “fit girls” they’ve grown up with. Impulsively aggressive, they fight hard enough that Fletch (Kyle Rowe) makes Liam’s lip bleed, yet their violence is also layered with tenderness. As Liam (Eddie-Joe Robinson) leaves, he swears things will stay “like always” between them.

Samuel Bailey’s follow up to his 2019 Papatango prize-winning debut, Shook, is an intricate and moving study of social mobility. Robinson skilfully builds a confused sense of identity into his portrayal of Liam, who drops his accent but seems uncomfortable wearing tail suits while at Oxford. “Which one is the real Lee?” Fletch spits at him during a surprise visit.

Movement segments break the scenes … Sorry, You’re Not a Winner.
Movement segments break the scenes … Sorry, You’re Not a Winner. Photograph: Steve Tanner

What makes Bailey’s writing so gripping is the characters’ nuance. As the narrative tumbles forwards, Liam manages to be simultaneously the same and different. Fletch, burningly played by Rowe, is a flawed mess of lovability. As the once unified pair descend into resentment, it is clear to Liam that the cost of education might be losing everything he’s ever known.

Directed by Jesse Jones, Bailey’s script is brought to life by movement segments that break the scenes. As Liam leaves for university, one of the on stage doors swings open, lit up, for him to walk through. As Fletch scrambles to join him, it brutally shuts in his face. Accompanied by a menacing sound design by Asaf Zohar, this repeated action makes visible the sense of lost opportunity.

Though not a particularly surprising story, it’s still a significant one. Bailey continues his development as one of the most socially engaged writers working in theatre today.

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