The Jack Studio Theatre/Write Now 5
The Jack Studio Theatre
New writing festival Write Now 5 has reached its climax with the opening of its main production: the première of Pool.
Tom Harvey's comedy is the play selected to receive a full production from amongst the very many scripts received from playwrights with a connection to South East London.
Pool is a début play, Harvey having enjoyed (my word, not his) a variety of careers in the entertainment world reflecting his self–confessed "challengingly short attention span and wilfully broad interests".
Pool is a quirky and funny tale of four pool attendants set in the period immediately after New Labour’s victory in 1997. However, in contrast the national mood of optimistic levity, Rob, Trevor, Steph and Ashley find their jobs at risk as Southwark Council want to close the Lido where they work.
The outdoor Lido, gifted to the residents of Southwark by a Victorian benefactor, is the poor relation to The Indoor where people have to pay and, it is inferred, it does not have the lido's tatty facilities.
Harvey presents the lido as a micro–community where, free to get in, all are welcome; the attendants are friends amongst themselves, they greet the regular swimmers by name, recognise the trouble–makers and look out for all of them equally.
For Rob, the Lido is also his home; he passes vodka–fuelled nights in the hut grieving the recent loss of his father and receiving ghostly visitors, including the spirit of Mr Kass who drowned in the pool decades earlier.
The ghostly Mr Kass reports of a life "up there" involving much queuing and form–filling, a parallel with the queues of regulars that wait for the Lido gates to open every morning and the routine checks and box tickings that punctuate the attendants' work pattern.
The ultimate closure of the Lido is driven by Council empire–builder David Slade who is a shoe–in for the head job in the new culture department that will replace Leisure Services, as "shifting priorities" point to high arts for those who can afford them and the closure of essential services for those who can't.
This picture of facilities at the core of communities being cut by, at best self–promoting and at worst corrupt, local politicians is one that most people can connect with, albeit it has the ring of a 21st century recession rather than the vestiges of 1997.
This is all the more so for audiences local to The Jack in Lewisham who may well have smarted at the closure of their own public pool as they watch this play, but you don't have to be a local to feel the resonance between the different times and worlds that Harvey presents us with.
Pool is not a play that beats you about the head with its message and I suspect that those who remember the 1997 election will come away having ascribed the play a different significance than those who were not born then.
For sure we all know one thing which is you cannot have the community engagement promised by the Big Society if there are no communities remaining.
Darren Beaumont gives a heart–felt and energetic portrayal of Harvey's unlikely hero Rob finely supported by Rachel Howells as Steph, with Alex Scott Fairly as Trevor, Jonathan Kemp as Slade, Alan Booty as Mr Kass and Joshua Okusanya as Ashley.
The Jack artistic director Kate Bannister's direction keeps up the pace and doesn't waste any comic moments whilst the lighting and sound designs of Amy Mae Smith and Mark Webber (operator John Fricker) suggest the watery surroundings very effectively against the wonderful set design of David Shields.
Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti