Alchemy in the UK

By Maggie Nevill
The Nuffield Theatre Company
Nuffield Theatre, Southampton
(2011)

Alchemy in the UK production photo

Maggie Nevill's audacious new play Alchemy in the UK could not be more relevant with its themes of redundancy and recycling and it's an exuberant passionate play performed by a highly talented cast under Patrick Sandford's adroit direction.

In today's world with a credit crunch crisis, a global recession and thousands of people loosing their jobs, redundancy has become a major issue as companies try to reduce their workforces to save money.

It not only can have a devastating effect on the person but also on family and friends with a resulting loss of dignity and self-respect, and a lack of money.

Alchemy in the UK is performed on and around a huge industrial skip surrounded by the detritus of Southampton's rubbish, including redundant televisions that seem to reflect the mood of the play (design by Juliet Shillingford).

53-year-old Brian, sharply observed by John Bowler, has been made redundant and has joined the 2.5 million unemployed.

His teenage daughter Tiff is hoping and expecting to be given a car for her 18th birthday but Dad being laid off has put paid to that but she does get a laptop.

Eleanor Yates perfectly captures the pressures of being a young teenager in today's stressful world of student grants and debts.

Her mother Clair, an impressive performance from Julia Righton, is working every hour of the day to try to keep the family solvent and together.

Nevill lives and writes in Southampton so many of her references are locally based. The rubbish strike in Southampton is over and the recycling centre is moving to Itchen.

Two of the former workers remain at the old depot under the Itchen Bridge, both unemployed and desperate to find work. Jack, convincingly played by Geoffrey Freshwater, suffering from asbestosis coughs and chokes his way through each day and the pride he feels for his ageing ex-punk son Kelloggs (Paul Wyett) provides much of the play's sassy humour.

The two strands to the story are intertwined when Tiff has to do an essay on recycling with some unexpected revelations.

Nevill's funny and witty play is about loving your family, your life, your job and family relationships. It's about the characters' dreams - such as buying a campervan and taking off - and also the problems associated with having a mid-life crisis.

Above all, Alchemy in the UK is a thought provoking play for today, bringing a heartfelt tenderness to being both in and out of work in Britain at this time.

"Alchemy in the UK" runs until 29th October

Reviewer: Robin Strapp