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Spank House

Jake Costello
The Jack Studio Theatre
The Jack Studio Theatre

Jake Costello in Spank House Credit: Tim Stubbs Hughes
Jake Costello in Spank House Credit: Tim Stubbs Hughes

If you think a spank house is a gathering place for those of a kinky disposition, you are wrong.

'Spank house' is the name given to boiler room scams by the criminals who operate them. A set–up whose only purpose is to trick people into parting with their money: lots of it.

It is this sort of spank house—a call centre of evil intent—that lies at the core of Jake Costello's Barcelona-set one man show.

The action takes place in 2008, starting just before the recession kicks in. We meet Jake who takes off to Spain to teach English as an alternative to unemployment in England.

Unqualified for the job and unsatisfied by it, when the opportunity arises to make a lot of money he takes it.

In the spank house, he finds camaraderie, excitement and a mendacity with which he is familiar: the lying he's indulged in for years, and the fakery of the staged wrestling he loved as an adolescent. Plus booze and a lot of drugs—"do a line, then do the crime," he is advised by a colleague.

Costello describes the set up in the office and the way the scam operates, the single-minded greed, the competitive spirit, an undercurrent of menace. They're a vile, heartless bunch, celebrating like "a pack of jackals" when a victim falls for Jake's act and the money comes rolling in.

After a while it all goes wrong, as prophesied by the opening projected images.

On the run, they turn to different crimes to raise money to live on, unable to reach their previously ill-gotten gains for fear of drawing police attention, and from there starts a new strand of the story, one that sets in motion the final unravelling.

Spank House is partially autobiographical and in it, Costello employs authentic scammers' scripts, stolen by him from the gang he associated with, to punctuate the narrative and demonstrate how fluently the con is executed.

The rest of the words are Costello's own, littered with language you wouldn't hear from your granny, whether coming his own character's or one of the several others he portrays.

He is a very able mimic and delivers a variety of accents with ease, inhabiting each character but switching between them swiftly and seamlessly.

Even when Costello takes a breather from his nervously energetic pace, there remains an underlying tension, sustained when he is off stage by a fast-moving slide show with a loud rock soundtrack. Director Kate Bannister has done a great job here controlling the reigns of what hints to be a runaway horse.

There are a couple of nice twists and some great lines, though the writing is admirably spare; this is a raw but strong début play and entertaining stuff, a thriller with dark comic punches and a double–faced, uncomfortable ending.

One side is what the narrative reveals and the other is the ambiguity we feel about Jake.

Sandra Giorgetti interviewed Jake Costello about Spank House.

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti