A 24:7 Theatre Festival rehearsed reading
New Century House, Manchester
Sixteen year old Shelly has recently dropped a sprog and is on the hunt for a father. Eeeny, meeny, miny, moe . . . The comedy here is abundant if a little monochrome. The gags drip with faeces, genitals, obesity and sex. It's the comedic equivalent of a fry-up.
Writer Roy Knowles (part of the North West Writers group) has taken a disadvantaged sub-section of society, decorated them with a host of clichés, stripped them of any intelligence or morality, put them in a fish bowl, and then let everyone laugh at them. What's worse, it's hilarious. Given the amount of times the working class are the butt of societal and artistic jokes, one ought to at least wonder whether this is a particularly original and/or progressive representation of the working-class: the characters eat crisp butties, binge drink, sleep around, steal, claim benefits. Save for one minor character (Dawn) who is more cynical and pragmatic, the characters on display are uniformly vacuous. And the vacuity looks great on stage. Ben Worth's performance as the wonderfully gormless Mark, a suspect in the case to find Shelly's baby's father, is imitable.
It is no writer's obligation to offer balanced, humanizing and political portrayals of the working-class. To simply entertain an audience is a tough and admirable ambition. And on this front, the writer succeeds handsomely. But the characters never deviate an inch from their cartoon personae. The result? The play has no gravitas. There is nothing at stake. We laugh and poke the characters as Kings might their fools. There is no cognitive engagement, no sympathy, no serious provocation. Is this the price a play pays when it commits to this brand of comedy?
This is not an easy script to critique. I need to reiterate just how capable the writer has shown himself to be. Knowles has ability as a comic wordsmith and satirist. Now he needs, should he wish to pursue a more affecting, thoughtful brand of theatre, to consider the political implications of his subject matter.
Reviewer: Ben Aitken