Jonathon Oakman’s new play Potosi is set entirely in one room. The bedroom to be exact. James (Shrai Popat) and Matthew (Tom Pease) have just met in a club, and decide to go home together. James is 17, and still dreaming of leaving school. He wants to travel to Bolivia and see the mountains and the salt flats. He talks excitedly about wanting to go out into the world and “do it all.” Matthew is only slightly older (he’s in his first year at university, studying English) but affects a more experienced, more knowing persona.
Part of what the play explores is how these roles shift and change—how the feelings of confidence and vulnerability blend, turn back on themselves. Yet it’s also interested in the idea of intimacy. In the closed, private space of the bedroom, these two characters advance and withdraw, embracing, dancing, pushing away from each other, sometimes lying quietly side-by-side. Their physical negotiations become a way of speaking about a different kind of intimacy—about our attempts to cautiously, but also hopefully, move nearer to the other people in our lives.
Popat and Pease both do a good job with their respective roles, and work well together in evoking a relationship that is at once casual and intimate. Their interactions are at times sweet and heartfelt, but are also punctuated with humour and awkwardness. They’re helped in this respect by the dialogue, which is refreshing, both in its pace, and wit, but also in its honesty.
Oakman—who both wrote and directed the play—tells me that he wanted to downplay the political aspect of the subject matter, focusing more on the ordinary, lived experiences of the two characters. “I wanted to write something that was natural, and personal,” he says. It’s an effective strategy, ensuring that the script never feels moralising or heavy-handed. But as Pease puts it, the play is also “unapologetic” in its representation of queer experience. It insists that the relationship between the two characters is something already familiar to us, that their story is not different, but very much the same as those we have seen before. In doing so, the play takes its own kind of political stance, one which reaffirms that these sorts of stories not only exist, but that they deserve to be told.
Potosi premiers at the Burton Taylor Studio in 3rd week, and will run from Tues 3 Feb to Sat 7 Feb.