Friday, June 5, 2015

'Dirty Special Thing' at the Platform Theatre, 4th June 2015

There's a righteous anger burning at the core of Dirty Special Thing. It shows us, in straightforward terms, what makes its young cast tick. Over 75 minutes we cover (among other things) class discrimination, financial woes, fear of the future and, simply, trying to enjoy life as your responsibilities are piled ever higher. 

This is the work of the Future Stage Company, composed of actors that have spent the last year training at Generation Arts. Generation Arts is one hell of an organisation, targeting disadvantaged young people with free, high-quality drama training. Their target student is someone classified as 'at risk'; those in receipt of benefits and without any prior qualifications. 

In this predatory society, where, sadly, the sole metric of a person's worth is their wealth, these are the people spat upon by right-wing media, demonised as scroungers by politicians and daubed as some terrifying 'other'. Most people don't want to see them, or are terrified that they'll become them. Giving them a platform to voice their fears, ambitions and opinions is vital - standing in a sharp contrast to a London stage all too often dominated by wealthy white men. 

The show is a series of interconnected vignettes, presumably developed from discussions as to what keeps these people awake at night. So we see the philosophies of a young cabbie working his way through 'the knowledge', the stress of a harried young nurse, students struggling to focus on UCAS applications, the philosophical leanings of a Big Issue seller, dealing with neighbours moaning about loud music and the misery of working a mindless call centre job.

With minimalist staging, my enjoyment mainly came from watching the cast bounce off one another. There's an abundance of personality in this company, the scenes accentuating each performer's best traits. One of the most successful was the monologue exploring what it means to know the knowledge; from the growth of the hippocampus that results from learning the layout of 25,000 streets, to the interpretation of the tangled road layout as a metaphor for life here. This is neatly visualised by taping a pattern to the floor, subtly linking the characters between scenes. Also, while I'd like to think I know the majority of London's 'hidden' secrets, I had no idea about the Ferryman's seat on Bankside.

Similarly excellent is Moneer Elmasseek's mordant Big Issue seller. He explains that people have spat on him, assaulted him and even thrown dogshit at him - though at least this means they're not ignoring him. With his hangdog, stoic aura it's difficult not to feel for the guy, especially as he's insulted and degraded by a sadistic banker. I'd like to think that this scene is an exaggeration, but frankly I wouldn't put any cruelty past a coked-up ex-public schoolboy.

Other treats were a heartbreaking scene where Nestor Sayo's Abu receives a letter from the Home Office informing him that his right to remain in the UK has been revoked, with deportation looming. I often deal with appeals against deportation orders (when I'm not reviewing theatre), so I found it both interesting and depressing to see the reaction of someone actually opening a Home Office letter.

Due to the nature of the production, it's to be expected that things are often a little rough and uneven. There's a musical number that doesn't work quite as well as it should and a few plotlines that could use a bit more development. Though there's a definite sense of interconnectivity between the scenes, I'd have liked that aspect to be developed a little more. 

Even as it is you get a sense of both the personal issues facing the characters and the wider societal ones. There's a refreshing anger running right through the show - this is an unfair society that rewards greed and punishing kindness - something argued against with a heartwarming defence of public services and altruism in general. Most touching was a pointed coda in which a character recovers from an injury "thanks to the NHS" - a line that's greeted with uproarious applause.

Generation Arts are doing outstanding, important work in giving these performers a boost towards further training and eventual careers. With their track record of getting auditions in major London drama schools they're giving the City's theatre scene a transfusion of life, putting viewpoints that're all too often drowned out by commercial considerations at centre stage.

Dirty Special Thing is at the Platform Theatre until 6th June 2015. Tickets here.

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