Silk Road, Alex Oates’ energetic one-hander about the narcotics equivalent of eBay, functions more successfully as a jocular (and distinctly Geordie) coming-of-age story than an in-depth exploration of the dark web’s social significance.
The premise for Silk Road is promising, if a little twee. Upon discovery of the narcotics equivalent of eBay, scruffy Geordie teenager Bruce is turning his unremarkable existence around from the (assumed) safety of his MacBook. Portrayed with an endearing energy by Josh Barrow, we watch Bruce grow his cocaine distribution empire from scratch. Well, with the assistance of his grandma’s knitted tea cosies. Yup…
Approaching it as a jocular coming-of-age story (the Geordie stage equivalent of Juno maybe, with a similar array of awkward adolescent characters, less pregnancy and more pills), Silk Road makes for an entertaining hour. The storytelling is fun and pacey, the jokes (astute observational quips) come thick and fast – and the characterisation is unexpected and quirky. Oates’ vision of a musical-theatre-loving-bouncer is a particular highlight.
The issue is Silk Road almost certainly wants to function as more than that. To shed light on the murky recesses of Web 2.0, and provide some sort of comment on – or exploration of – the social significance of the existence of these illegal marketplaces. Other than surface-level expositions that they exist, and that it’s as easy to buy Class A substances on them as some pants off eBay, the play fails to pry or offer any real insight. It’s a fascinating subject matter that I do believe the audience had the appetite to really learn about, and I just found the writing to stop short of giving us as much as we’d like.
Directorial decisions and design elements aren’t particularly radical, but maintain pace successfully; transitions from location to location are smooth, well-rehearsed and well-defined through light. Barrow’s performance is confident and captivating. The space – a musty, shadowy tunnel far below the city – is also a good fit, the geographical equivalent of a fascinatingly shady realm that I just wanted to learn slightly more about.