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Young Critics Corner | Thomas McClure Review of Battery Park

On the 21st of October, Battery Park came to the CatStrand.

The Sleeping Warrior Theatre Company present an incredible and kinetic performance that shows the best gig theatre can be. Battery Park is a play about the rise and fall of a Greenock rock band from the 90s, and the memories that remain decades later.

The production quality of this show is incredible. The set itself, save for the instruments, does a lot with a little, with various elements being repurposed as different things for different scenes. One great moment was when they used what seems to be a fridge to represent a safe, utilising the lights inside to symbolise the power and awe of the money inside.

The set design is made even more impressive given that the CatStrand is a smaller venue than they were used to, and so they had to readjust some things about their set and performance to get it to fit. The outfits also represented the characters, time period, and even location very well throughout, and might have inspired a little late-night online shopping in me after the show.

The lighting was a highlight as well, bringing the vibes to the rock concert into the little hall of our small rural village. While I had no problems with most of the lighting throughout the play, and it being phenomenal for the most part, one scene in latter half had a wall of bright white light glaring and then flashing at the audience which forced me and some others to have to physically look away from the stage for a minute or so, missing the sights of that scene, which did detract from the play a little.

For gig theatre, sound is of paramount importance, and the Sleeping Warriors batted it out of the park with this performance. I knew from the moment Tommy placed down his drink in the opening seconds, and with that action came a beat of the drums, that this play was going to be something great. I adore musical performances with such kinetic energy and fine choreography as Battery Park, and I hope this work inspires many more pieces as high energy and dynamic as this. Whether you consider it to be a play with songs or a rock concert with a story, Battery Park is an almost transcendental experience, sucking you right into the world and lives of the fictional band.

I believe every actor brought their ‘A’ game to this performance, both individually and together.

In a cast brimming with talent, a standout performance was that of Stuart Edgar, who portrayed the young Tommy. For such a conflicted and nuanced character, a wide emotional range is necessary, and Edgar delivers throughout his performance. With a single expression Edgar can say a thousand words, which is so fitting for the character of Tommy, who seems to have a thousand things he wants to say but can't. His physicality is also on point throughout, bringing the shy yet passionate Tommy to life with an incredible stage presence. There is a scene in the play when Edgar and McGowan, who play brothers Tommy and Ed, hugged one another, and it was the subtle movements in each actor that really sold the weight of this moment, and brought me to tears.

Chloe-Ann Tylor also provides an incredible performance, playing two key characters throughout the play: Angie in the past and Lucy in the present. Despite sometimes wearing the same clothes and staying on stage through the transition, there was never a doubt in my mind which character she was playing at any given time, all with an effortless shift in demeanour and accent change in the blink of an eye. Tylor also commands a strong stage presence in every scene, making both Angie and Lucy bold and engaging characters, symbolic of their connection. The chemistry between Tylor and Edgar is also worthy of note, with even just their body language in any given scene telling us all we need to know about where they are in their relationship and how they feel about one another.

Chris Alexander, who plays the older Tommy, was the heart and soul of the play and every line he delivers is packed with the raw emotion of an older man reminiscing on his youth, and the losses therein. We’ve all met a guy at a pub who thinks his best years are behind him and feels most alive again when telling the tales of his past, and Alexander plays that kind of person so perfectly that you understand and empathise with his character from the very first scene. He also brings a sense of humour to the character that adds some much-needed levity at just the right moments.

Tommy McGowan also has a great emotional range, depicting the downward spiral of a rockstar in such a nuanced performance that keeps the audience sympathising with the character of Ed even in his worst moments. And for what the script lacks in developing relationships between Ed and the rest of the characters throughout the play, McGowan makes up for with his subtle acting choices when engaging with them, making later outbursts seem like they were almost inevitable.

An understated depiction of an underrated character, Kim Allan leaves you wanting more of the character of Robyn, a character who starts with Battery Park but later goes on to achieve the fame they all dreamed of. Her appearance in a scene was at times like a breath of fresh air, giving us a more cool and collected character than the sometimes tense other times bumbling Tommy, Ed, and Biffy. Allan brings a strong voice to the character, commanding a stage presence befitting of the confident and motivated Robyn. Her chemistry with Tylor’s Angie is also worth mentioning, as they share surprisingly few moments together yet are able to display a years-long friendship with just body language.

Lastly, Charlie West is cast perfectly as Biff. With any other actor, this character may have been nothing more than comedic relief, or simply a buffoon, perhaps even a bit of a thug, but under West, he’s almost a comfort character in this tragic tale. His physical comedy and comedic timing are on point in every scene, and he absolutely earns every laugh he got. One of my friendly aptly noted that his pacing and deliveries read less like comedic relief and far more like gags that your friends would pull in the heat of the moment, with every shout of his catchphrase feeling like an instinct within the character that he thinks is the coolest and funniest thing ever. West portrays Biffy as a genuine person, and so, like Robyn, there’s a catharsis when things seem to turn out alright with him.

I also think it’s worth noting how both the script and performances realistically portray typical relationships, from the trio of male friends and their bravado, manufactured toughness, and rare intimacy, to the more warm and friendly, even wholesome, girlfriends that are Robyn and Angie. I enjoyed the similarly realistic, albeit brief, depiction of the friendship between Tommy and Robyn, which is written and acted very distinctly from the aforementioned relationships. Biffy’s somewhat ambivalent friendship with both Robyn and Angie is also well-acted. These very different kinds of relationships, as well as the relationships between Angie and younger Tommy and between Lucy and older Tommy, are all written so distinct from one another, considering their genders and different kinds of bonds, to the point that you could isolate any exchange and know exactly who is talking to who. Battery Park takes care in developing the characters and their relationships and I believe that is a huge reason for why this play resonates with the audiences so well.

The entire creative team did a wonderful job on this performance, and I’d like to briefly shoutout those I haven’t yet mentioned by name. Scott Miller as the Assistant Director, Isla Cowan as the Lyricist & Dramaturg, Kenneth MacLeod as the Set & Costume Designer, Grant Anderson as the Lighting Designer, Fraser Milroy as the Sound Designer, Debbie Hannan as the Dramaturg, Sharon Mackay as the Intimacy Coordinator, Martin O’Connor as the Outreach Associate, Emma Yeomans as the Stage Manager for rehearsals, Babette Wickham-Riddick as the Deputy Stage Manager, Josh Brown as the Re-lighter, Nathan Farndale as the Technician, Steph Connell as the Producer, Elle Taylor as the Production Manager, as well as Karen Forbes and Nicolle Murdoch as the BSL Interpreters and Marmoset Construction who built the set. Well done everyone on the creative team for such a wonderful production.

Writer, director, composer, and lyricist Andy McGregor is proving to be a master of many crafts with Battery Park. Inspired by the personal experience of his own band, the Blind Pew, McGregor has put together a love letter to failed bands, lost youths, Britpop, rock, and Greenock too. That era comes alive in this play. Although I only saw the 90s for half a year, tonight I am nostalgic. With a tight script and even tighter choreography, McGregor and the Sleeping Warriors have created one of the finest pieces of theatre of the 2020s, and hands-down the best play of 2023. I can’t wait to see what he, and the rest of the creatives involved, get up to next.

To me, this was a five-star performance, and everyone involved should be very proud of themselves. It was an absolute privilege to see Battery Park at the CatStrand.

 Battery Park Workshop Review:

I also attended the Battery Park Workshop led by Martin O’Connor.

This workshop, held at the Smiddy in Balmaclellan and supported by the CatStrand, was based on the play, Battery Park, that took place at the CatStrand shortly afterwards.

With four participants, Martin was quick to establish a safe and enabling environment, which I highly appreciate. The workshop gave us space and time to think about the music of our youth, which for some of us were parodies on YouTube and for others were records of the then hit new band, the Beetles.

These discussions were great as we were able to speak freely and reminisce openly about how relation to music when we were young, and therein we found many similarities and stark contrasts, and for me it was fascinating to learn about the youths of older generations and to see how much has changed and how much has surprisingly stayed the same.

This workshop culminated in a beautiful performance piece where our memories and feelings were sown together with musical accompaniment in such a way that felt like our lives were made into a spoken word tapestry of music. It was really warming to be given the chance to look back on experiences and memories I haven’t thought about in many years, and to be able to share them with a group of people and listen to their memories and experiences in turn. It’s safe to say that I will probably be listening to Dan Bull’s Civilisation song a lot over the coming weeks.

I really enjoyed this workshop and I’d like to see more small workshops like it in the future. I’d like to extend a big thank you to Martin O’Connor for providing us with a wonderful afternoon.

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