For this compelling set of four new plays Theatre 503 sent writers out into the local community in Wandsworth, visiting hospitals, youth centres, food banks and disability and community centres. This was a smart idea. The detail and authenticity in these plays is unusually strong and there’s a heart and empathy that maybe comes from the writers being immersed in real stories and real situations.
The evening kicks off with Cassie and Corey by Christopher Hogg – an inventive and refreshing piece of theatre. From the ingenious location to the contrasting characters of Corey (Gabriel Akamo) and Cassie (Harriet Main) we never know where this play is going next. It’s a perfect mish mash of ideas and form with a stand out turn from Stanton Plummer-Cambridge as Jason a zero hours contract Tesco’s security guard. This is fantastic joyful writing about hard subject matter – and all the better for it.
The second play of the night is Locks by Sherhan Lingham. At first this seems like it’s treading old ground. The skint single mum, Tia, struggling to survive on her benefits – begging handouts from her boorish uncle (Jeremy Hancock), but the feisty and likeable performance from Charlotte Jane Higgins (Tia) creates a complicated and engaging character that is flawed and furious, with a vulnerability that’s touching. There are lovely performances too from Arthur McBain as the emotionally skewered David and from Gracy Goldman as Miranda. Jill Riddiford plays Leigh – a very recognisable community worker who is as wrapped up in her own problems as those of her clients – with a façade of heightened happiness that it perfectly played.
Play three is Stroke, another harsh subject that is handled with subtlety. Clare (played tenderly by Georgia Clark-Day) has had an unexpected stroke in her 20’s. She’s angry, frustrated, hopeful and despondent all at once. Her boyfriend Jamie (David Frias-Robles) is as trapped as she is, this isn’t the life either of them dreamed about. They’re isolated except for visits from carer Adrienne (Sadie Parsons) and Clare’s old coach Frank (Jon McKenna).
There’s an honesty in this play that’s likeable and a sense of how senseless life can seem. The flashbacks between scenes of life before the stroke are nicely played and remind us what Clare and Jamie have lost.
BATR, Zone C – completes the evening. For me this is the most ambitious of the plays – toying with form and dialogue and set in a near future type of world. Zero (Bolaji Alakua), Isaac (Ntonga Mwanza) and Mykayla (Shanika Warren-Markland) are from Zone C where there are no trees, baths or opportunities. To leave their only hope is to apply to the Lottery where one applicant is chosen by Mayweather (Catherine Humphys) each year and taken through to Zone B. Policeman Stripe (James Hender) found his way out years before, and has no intention of ever going back. There are moments when this play doesn’t quite achieve its ambition, moments when it could be sleeker – but there are also some fierce punches of dialogue that have a terrifying authenticity to them. The cry of ‘Who runs the world?’ deepens as the play continues as we see how little control the Zone C people have over their lives, and how Mykayla is crushed into a corner where her choices are limited. And what becomes of those left behind, knowing they will never be able to leave.
Theatre 503 is always worth a visit to see the latest in new writing and The State We’re In is a bold showcase reflecting back the local community and asking some important questions. Hats off to the cast, creatives and crew involved for creating such a thought provoking entertaining set of plays at such a high standard.
Review by Roz Wyllie
The State We’re In
Directors: Yasmeen Arden, Jessica Daniels, Anthony Ekundayo Lennon, Cassie Webb
Stage Manager: Marco Carpegna
Designer: Emma Lynch
Lighting Designer: Ben Jacobs
Sound Designer: Marco Carpegna
Producer: Robyn Bennett
Conceived and curated by Tom Latter & Steve Harper
Theatre 503 – 12th – 16th April 2016