Everything Must Go
Soho Theatre gets in while the going is good, with this night of short plays offering contemporary, of-the-moment responses to the economic recession. Ten writers ensure a diversity in approaches, from weighty drama to fantasia to tongue-in-cheek. It makes for a fascinating evening, as much for the interest of simply seeing how writers approach an issue so present in all of our daily lives.
It's actually the pieces that approach the theme obliquely which are the best. My two highlights were Oladipo Agboluaje's Set Piece and Kay Adshead's Possessed. In Agboluaje's play, an uptight young British director and an egotistical Nigerian actor are in Lagos trying to film a no-budget thriller - the first "Nollywood" crossover hit - about corporate corruption and the banking crisis. Their backer pulls out, but they have the brainwave to avoid engineering an expensive set piece by simply using the carnage and mayhem around them as their backdrop. Jimmy Akingbola, good in many roles, is particularly great here as the booty-shaking would-be star.
Adshead's story is a sort of dystopian fantasia in which two couples with babies, forced out of their homes and jobs, eventually retreat to an invisible, deserted cottage in the woods to try and cling to life with no money, water or electricity, nothing in fact but the food they can eke out of the soil. Their parents ring their mobiles and are lied to - "Everything's fine Mum, I told you we're not using the landline anymore". A chilling little glimpse.
Then there is the most straightforward, passionate, rabble-rousing of the bunch - Paula B. Stanic's 6 Minutes, in which a factory's brutal redundancy policy literally comes back to haunt it . Jo Martin is outstanding as the outraged former employee, refusing to leave the premises until management have heard her out. Her cry for decency, respect and fairness, and for the management to have enough honour to pay its workers what they are owed, has added strength as Stanic well knows in the context of the obscenity of chief executives taking home bonuses of half a million pounds.
Some of the pieces are weaker. Bola Agbaje's snippet about a woman trying to keep up the wealthy facade while involved in local politics, Anything You Can Do, is a bit too slight; while conversely Ron McCants' The Farmer and the Shepherd tries to deal with too many themes than its time allows: not only the decline of American heartland industry, but the threat of dispossession and the paranoic fear of immigrants. Megan Barker's Anaphylactic is the strangest of the bunch - an experimental poetic monologue with recurring motifs of risk-taking, desperate wishful-thinking, and the reappearance of the vanished bees just in time to save the world. It's blinding in parts, but too muddled overall: I would have liked it to cleave closer to the opening image of the famous Deal Or No Deal box - this symbol of winning or losing it all, pinning your entire future on chance or fate, could have been a cunning way to sum up desperate times.
What's great, though, is the variety of mediums - the sense of the theatre as the epicentre at which voices from many different art forms collide. Steve Thompson offers a jaunty musical number in two parts, Song of the City, handily breaking down the timeline of the crisis. Marisa Carnesky performs her own short, ironically sweet magic show House of Knives in which the inhabitant of a gorgeous palace disappears amid the mounting worries of mortgage repayments and debt. And Maxwell Golden delivers a searing beat monologue to music - sharing the title of the evening, it's a protest song against the stamping-down of individuality, the eradication of people's "extremities" in favour of "painting them in neutral colours". It's the jobless being compelled to make themselves appropriately neutral, inoffensive, robotically perfect and fit for all markets, in their unending attempt to gain re-employment. An excellent piece that does a lot with a little.
Finally, Will Eno's The Train Is Leaving The Station tried to capture the sniping debates between different theorists as to what exactly happened and who was to blame. A speaker at some sort of badly-arranged lecture event launches into his soapbox rant about the evils of the system, only to be thwarted by a sarcastic fellow speaker who insists that only people, and not "machinery", are to blame. Essentially though they both seem to be making the same point. Arguing the academic points seems a little futile to us after we have witnessed things of far greater human drama this evening. There is a lovely moment though where the doddery piano-teacher-turned-banker who has wandered on (don't ask) exclaims wonderingly as the lights start to fade, "Oh look. Look at us all disappear." In terms of themes of the evening, the real hard-hitter is the loss of individuality - as all the fugitive and forgotten people recede into the annals of history. These pieces try to preserve their stories - to keep them distinct: brief, life-saving flares.
Until 4th July
Reviewer: Corinne Salisbury