4 stars ****
Assembly@George Street (Venue 3)
ENTER THE ASSEMBLY ROOMS, turn sharp left at the front door, and suddenly find yourself in the seediest of British seaside hotel-rooms. There’s the double bed, the greyish net curtains, the teasmade, the slightly peeling wallpaper; and here, you meet Lauren and Daz, a couple whose relationship is so illicit that although it’s Daz’s birthday, Lauren is afraid even to go out for dinner. Daz is a 15-year-old school kid, Lauren is the gym teacher at his school, 14 years his senior. If they are seen together, her life and career are effectively over; yet something – not just sex, a kind of love or recognition – drives Lauren and Daz into each other’s arms.
Fiona Evans’s brief, bitter and poignant 40-minute drama shows us the end of the affair, the moment when Lauren knows she must let it go and return to her grown-up life; and it does not shy away from the tough questions about the depth of her weakness and betrayal, both of her boyfriend back home, and of the child in Daz.
But what makes the play linger in the mind is its underlying sense of tragedy, of a chance of happiness and true connection crushed by circumstance, and made not only impossible, but corrupt and wrong. Every detail of Jo Newberry’s seedy setting echoes that sense of sadness and corruption, in perfect detail. And Deborah Bruce’s immaculate production for Newcastle-based Northern Firebrand – backed by a hard-hitting musical score – features two magnificent performances, from James Baxter as the beautiful, funny, fragile boy on the brink of serious emotional damage, and Holly Atkins as a woman whose failure to heal the wounds of her own inner child has led her into a place where she should never have gone, and to the passing on of her confusion and unhappiness, generation to generation.
Until 27 August
4 stars ****
E4 UdderBELLY’s Pasture (Venue 300)
WE SEE THEM everywhere in our cities and along our motorways, the big containers on which our civilisation depends for the daily transport of everything we buy, sell, and eat; so much so that we’re often barely aware of their presence. But every year, for thousands of illegal migrants trying to make their way to the west, these containers become a dangerous, stinking, short-term home as they rumble across Asia and Europe, the place where their dreams will be made or broken. Clare Bayley’s The Container – first created for a trio of school performances in the Thames Gateway area – not only dramatises that terrifying experience as one of the key journeys of our time, but places the action inside a real container parked in George Square. The effect is devastating, as the big metal doors slam on the audience, and we are plunged into the sweaty darkness of a different world that must often be only inches away from us, as we go about our daily lives.
Inside this space Bayley swiftly conjures up a group of five characters, all caught up in the nightmare of forced and illegal migration. From Africa, Afghanistan, and Kurdistan they come, each desperately vulnerable to the gangs – represented by the bullying agent who occasionally bursts into their darkness – who exploit and abuse their illegal status. Bayley’s script sometimes struggles to move far beyond the obvious, over a short 65 minutes. But for all that, the drama is electrifying, and the acting in Tom Wright’s production often sensational. And although millions of us here in Britain know the facts about the current illegal trade in human hope, ambition and desperation, this show makes a magnificent job of forcing us to feel those facts on our skin and in our bones; and to feel with those who suffer for the right to a new life, rather than just occasionally – when we are in the mood – feeling sorry for them.
Until 26 August