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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Kurt and Sid
Trafalgar Studios Autumn 2009

Sid Vicious was a British punk rocker who died of a heroin overdose in 1979. Kurt Cobain was a Seattle-based grunge rocker who shot himself in 1994.

Those two sentences summarise almost all I know about either man, which actually puts me in an excellent position to review Roy Smiles' play about the pair, since I can deal with his fictional creations without the handicap of measuring them against anything I might remember or feel about the real men.

And while others might complain about inaccuracies or distortions, what I saw was the interplay of two characters uniquely qualified to debate questions of music, drugs, the outsider's experience of society and the lure of self-destruction and escape from the pain of feeling too much.

We come upon Kurt at the moment he is putting the rifle barrel in his mouth, only to be interrupted by the sudden appearance of the confused Sid, who isn't quite sure himself whether he's Sid's ghost, a Sid wannabe, a Kurt stalker or a figment of Kurt's imagination.

He only knows that, while he understands the pain that has led Kurt to this moment, he rejects suicide as an option and is a bit surprised to find himself coming up with arguments for life.

The Kurt and Sid that Smiles imagines share the same disgust for the corrupt world around them, the same need to express themselves in music and the same hunger for escape through heroin.

But this imagined Kurt internalises everything - describing himself as a would-be pacifist filled with rage, he says 'I write songs it hurts to sing,' and can wail that 'There's evil in this world' with all the shock and horror of a first discovery.

Sid, on the other hand, directs his anger outward, clothing it in a sardonic wit that at least gives him the pleasure of the zinger. While he can spit out 'I've never got used to the pettiness of being English,' he also quips 'Don't judge us too harshly. We're a lovely people when we're not conquering India.'

Sid recognises that there's a big element of martyrdom in Kurt's pain - 'Hello. You're not Jesus.' - and struggles to find a convincing argument against suicide, which raises the dramatically quite interesting question of just what arguments a cynical, self-destructive punk rocker could find for living.

We know, of course, that he will fail, but it is the debate itself, and the way it enables Smiles to explore the plight of the rebel musician, that carries the relatively short (just over 90 minutes, including interval) play.

If Danny Dyer's Sid leans a bit too much on generic acerbic-Brit (parts of his characterisation could be Ian Dury, John Lennon or even Peter Cook), he does round out the character, exposing some touching vulnerabilities you might not expect. Shaun Evans captures Kurt's pain and colours it with a hint of uncertainty - he speaks slowly, with an almost-stutter - that allows us the fantasy of a hope that he might change his mind.

Director Tim Stark not only guided the actors to their subtle characterisations but also to an intimate and natural playing perfectly suited to the small studio space.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Kurt and Sid - Trafalgar Studios 2009

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