Theatre Royal Stratford East
Gutted is a roller-coaster ride of theatrical excitement that spotlights the lives of four Bermondsey brothers from the world of “sarf” London’s petty criminals and their mum.
On the surface they don’t seem to have hang-ups about race or sex and they are bursting with confidence. Their family chant is:
We are the Prospects
Everyone hates us
But we don’t care!
But that’s on the surface. Abused by their pa, whom they grew to hate, there is sibling sex, conversion to Islam, a predilection for transsexuals, parenthood, and the beginnings of a career in footie with Millwall, a conviction that sends the youngest to a detention centre and a drug problem that sees the eldest in rehab. Writer Rikki Beadle-Blair packs a lot in, including an uncut masturbation class, uncut as in… ouch!
It is a kaleidoscopic picture that probably takes on too much and leaves little time to explore individual character. With the four boys named after the four Evangelists, you may well wonder if you should look for a message in the moments that are here mixed up together—and with that mixture bouncing back and forth in time the audience has to stay on the ball to keep track of things.
These boys are runners. The opening has Matthew (James Farrar) the eldest running, racing through all the years from when he was eleven to the present, and then running all the way home after release from rehab. He is now 26 and still mother’s favourite. Mark (Frankie Fitzgerald), two years younger, is a bit out of condition and is married with two kids: Luke (Jamie Nichols) is 22, something of an entrepreneur and John (Gavin McCluskey), the youngest at 20, who feels “the water is just fucking rising around me" and “I want to be normal”. Then there is their mother, Bridie Prospect (Louise Jameson), who eventually gets a chance to take stock and looks back with self-knowledge, “Afraid to bleed so refusing to feel.”
These characters all get stunning performances and you could build a play around any of them, but here we get only a series of snapshots of their lives which might not work were Beadle-Blair not such a skilful director.
There is also strong playing of the other characters we meet: Mark's wife Janine (Sasha Frost) and her sister Lucy (Jennifer Daley), and John’s Muslim girl Sinai (Dominique Moore). Ashley Campbell does a double as the detention centre top man and insecure trannie Frankie, towering on her heels but perhaps comprehending more than any of the other blokes, a performance that flaunts its dichotomy.
It all comes together in a vibrant production. A stunning image greets you on entering the auditorium for a mirror curtain reflects the whole house back and, when it rises, the set (design also by Beadle-Blair), is formed of three mirror walls. The multiple images this produces result in some striking stage pictures and it is beautifully lit throughout by Michael Nabarro.
Most scenes are very brief but they flow so smoothly and at such a pace that there is no disjuncture, despite the jumps in chronology, as the audience pieces the story together, a story that is more about the struggle to deal with what they have been dealt than an ordinary narrative.
It is a gritty picture that sometimes seems to load down the Prospects with more than any one family should bear, but it is delivered with passion and energy and is written with an explosion of feeling.
In other hands it might tip into melodrama or soap opera but Beadle-Blair knows what he is doing. Authors directing their own work can lead to blindness about problems. Any here are unnoticed when there is such a dazzle of theatrical flair.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton