Smash It Up and E15

Smash It Up  
4 stars ****  
Summerhall (Venue 26)
3 stars ***
Gilded Balloon (Venue 14)

LET’S SAY IT, loud and clear. Britain’s apparently never-ending property boom, supported by endless tax breaks and help schemes, is driving waves of aggressive gentrification through our cities, and putting residential property in city centres far beyond the reach of people on benefits, or on ordinary working-class incomes.

The situation is most acute in London, but is also transforming “desirable” city-centre areas from Edinburgh to Liverpool and Cardiff; and in their powerful new show Smash It Up, at Summerhall, the South Wales based company Mr. And Mrs. Clark focus, as their starting-point, on a notorious incident in Newport, where developers eager – with the support of the local council – to convert an old shopping centre into a tightly-patrolled indoor mall, simply smashed up and destroyed a mural portraying Newport’s Chartist Movement of the 19th century, and that powerful popular campaign for citizenship and democracy.

Incensed by this non-consensual trashing of the town’s shared history, the three-strong company therefore begin to interrogate their own attitude to destruction as a creative force, and to the history of destruction in art; as they make clear in their publicity, Smash It Up is, after a fashion, an exhibition, a performance- lecture, and a dance theatre show with documentary and short film. It never becomes so distracted by the theory of radical destruction, though, as to confuse it with the deliberate trashing of public space by the forces of commercial exploitation. Last year in Wales, one observer described the show as “a beautifully convulsive mixture of contempt, anger, opinion, passion and hope”; and he certainly wasn’t wrong.

E 15, presented by young Sheffield company FYSA, represents a much more direct and straightforward attempt to get to grips with issues of gentrification and social cleansing, with a vivid, heartfelt and slightly messy dramatisation of the 2013 rebellion against evictions in the London borough of Newham, where a hostel full of young single mothers got together to prevent the council from selling off the prime site on which the building stood, and sending them all to live in different cities, hundreds of miles from home.

The play benefits from a couple of terrific performances in the leading roles of the two young mothers who started the campaign. And although other characters are sketchy and half-written to the point of stereotype – and the narrative finally dwindles into some uninspired on-stage campaigning – the play still has a huge charge of energy, and the guts to point out that though community campaigners may win the odd battle, there is absolutely no sign, yet, that they have any chance of winning the increasingly intense low-level war over the ownership of Britain’s urban space.

Joyce McMillan 
Until 29, 31
pp. 199, 319
ENDS ENDS       


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