Hope Theatre, London – until 8 April 2017
Review by Laura Thomas
Kicked In The Sh*tter – Cry ‘Social exclusion’, and discuss causes and solutions, and one is enslaved by political dogma; both ‘sides’ chanting mantra from different prayer books. The left blame the bankers and Blair, the right blame the left and the excluded themselves, whilst professionals, and their client populations, are dealt a series of unwinnable hands.
In this other state, a brother and sister are trapped behind invisible walls, poverty of aspiration and opportunity cutting them off from light and hope. Intelligent, brilliant even, in their own ways, but insufficiently articulate to navigate the labyrinth of benefit entitlements, a better title for this piece could be ‘The Other Form’.
Two parallel narratives, set ten years apart, introduce us to the anonymous siblings. We first meet the teenage Her and the ten-year-old Him. She is already a lioness, protecting her vulnerable younger brother, their parents remote and broken. Tender and funny, the shrewdly observed opining scenes show the loving bond between two beautiful spirits without sentimentality.
Step forward ten years and the piper has been paid. Her (Helen Budge) is a harassed single mother of two, Him (James Clay) is a mentally disturbed young man. Fleming allows both characters the dignity of bearing the consequences of their own mistakes, without preaching from either prayer-book. Both are well cast; director Scott Le Crass keeps the mood light and the action cracking along. We are drawn into the alternative normal that Him and Her call home. The writing is bright and witty, the performances pin sharp, and we start to love and understand these two remarkable young people, and Her emerges, into adulthood, as an authentic heroine of our age.
A simple but stunningly effective set, by Justin Williams and Jonny Rust, provides an ever-changing backdrop. The movement of the cast is fluid and well-drilled, as they assemble and reassemble the blocks and boxes. Lights, (Jai Morjaria and Teresa Nagel), and original music, (Adam Langston) frame the action perfectly. The production oozes painstaking attention to detail. It rare to see simplicity done as well as this.
The reveal when, it comes, is unexpected, and breath-taking. There is an almost palpable sense of release, the hint of a knowing smile from the cast to the creative team, and then Budge cuts in the afterburners as her performance takes off. In the last third of the play she delivers a masterclass of understated vulnerability and passion. There is no ranting, no shouting, just clear, sustained and authentic storytelling of one woman’s story. Her concentration never wavers, she never misses a beat. The climax is believable, heart-rending and cathartic. The descending action perfectly played, a superb exposition of the love between siblings.