Modern Life is Rubbish
Fruit, Humber Street, Hull
From 11 November 2014 to 15 November 2014
Review by Richard Vergette
You have to hand it to Middle Child. They’re nothing if not adventurous. From classics like Saturday Night Sunday Morning to newer work such as Apples by John Retallack, they have hit the cultural scene of Hull and beyond with the kind of force, energy and intelligence that makes one feel that the future of theatre is in good if not safe hands.
Their latest work is a two and half hour explosion of polemic anger, prosaically entitled Modern Life is Rubbish, by local playwright, Laura Turner. It’s a hard-hitting cabaret / musical manifesto—which calls its audience to shake off their apathy and do something about the detritus of our modern society. Appalling recent statistics on rape, drug abuse and suicide are relayed to us through the use of screens mounted either side of the stage. This is a young company who are angry—very angry.
Anger in theatre has good traditions. Accidental death of an Anarchist might make us laugh but the farce does not dilute the anger. Far from it, the laughter is derisive, uncomprehending and violent. There is nothing gentle or soothing about Turner’s cabaret here, either. The company may sing, dance and tell jokes but their work is tsunami of nihilism. Modern life isn’t just rubbish—it’s utter shit.
We are confronted by a series of stereotypes (Shannon/Slut, Dave/Feral Scum, Ben/Posh twat, Lizzie/ Spoilt brat, Caz/Chav and Andrew/A Nobody) all looking for some kind of unifying force to harness their disillusionment and give them a purpose. That their salvation comes in the form of Russell Brand would suggest that not only is modern life the target of this play but also the harbingers of revolution too.
One interesting statistic missing from the show was the amount of money Brand has made from his latest book (estimates are around £250,000). If Brand is the new Che Guevara then Revolution has become like golf; it’s what rich, middle-aged guys get dressed up in silly clothes to do at the weekend. Rather like Bono, he may want to rock the establishment but first needs to come to terms with the fact that he is the establishment. Predictably, the initial zeal felt by characters falls away and we are left with the truth that no revolution is going to happen because we don’t think modern life is rubbish enough
As one might expect from Middle Child, the company playing is tight, unselfish and energetic. It is ably led by Marc Graham as the MC with strong ensemble work from the entire cast. My difficulty with the piece was that for all its righteous anger, some of the messages were unclear. I can accept that amongst the chorus of stereotypes, a toilet cleaning ‘nobody’ has been a victim of society’s unwillingness to realise the talents of its individuals, but when another of their number is a ‘posh twat’ who rapes a disabled girl I want him to be the victim of revolution not an instrument of it.
Whilst there are some immensely strong moments (the stabbing of the NHS heroine was beautifully and movingly executed), the continuously declamatory style—after a while—delivers a series of diminishing returns. It’s possible to retain anger but vary both pace and volume. The relationship between Andrew and Shannon (nicely played by both Edward Cole and Alice Beaumont) needed more time and greater depth for it to really make its mark. Having dialogue that is constantly delivered through direct address served the polemic of the play but limited the development of the argument or the ability of the audience to engage with it.
However, it’s heartening that political theatre is on the agenda at all and that Middle Child has produced another compelling, irreverent and visceral theatre experience.