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Review: Bottleneck at Royal Court Studio ****

Luke Barnes’ sharply funny yet pin-droppingly poignant coming-of-age story was a hit when Hiding Place Theatre staged it at Hope Street last summer.

Now it’s getting a welcome second outing on a mini-North West tour, with an all-too-brief stop in the intimate surroundings of the Royal Court Studio.

Set on a bare stage, a montage of Liverpool FC flags and photos on the black backcloth the only set dressing, this is storytelling at its most simple and yet also its most vivid and absorbing.

Barnes’ potent text, which moves stealthily from high-spirited, carefree naivety to something much, much darker, is delivered with fizzing energy and considerable skill by young Liverpudlian actor Daniel Cassidy.

It’s 1989. Greg is 14 yet seems so much younger, a mad Liverpool fan and motherless boy-man, full of adolescent bravado and sexual banter he doesn’t really understand, easily led astray by his Evertonian best mate Tom, and believing only men with moustaches (like his solidly decent dad) can truly be trusted.

He is also due to turn 15 on Saturday “and then I can do whatever I want because then I’ll be a man.”

What he really, really wants to do on the big day is to go and watch his beloved LFC play in the FA Cup semi-final.

But his persistence has devastating consequences, played out in a few terrifying minutes on the terraces in what is a sensitively-handled but still deeply uncomfortable watch.

So uncomfortable, one audience member in the show I saw appeared compelled to leave the room.

Interestingly, this is the second ‘Hillsborough’ play Cassidy has appeared in, following Ian Salmon’s Those Two Weeks at the Unity Theatre last year.

And like fellow Reds fan Salmon, Barnes finds the heart of his narrative not in the grim statistics of the dead and injured, but in individual personalities, the ordinary men and women – with all their hopes, fears, dreams and aspirations – caught up in an extraordinary moment in time.

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