It’s a pleasantly warm and sunny evening. I’m having a stroll around the streets near Battersea Bridge and the park – streets vaguely familiar to me from a long-gone childhood of chip shops and giant Palm Toffee ads. I’m feeling good. Then it hits me. Out of the blue. An angry fist straight into the throat. A back-handed slap in the gob, an indiscriminate kick in the shins, a baseball bat rammed into the gut and – the coup de grace – an unforgiving knee buried in the groin. I double up, fall to the ground and through the old Young’s Brewery fuggy daze I see images of that other aspect of my childhood – the Teds with razor blades displayed in their top pocket and fishhooks stitched into their sleeves.
Yes, I’ve been mugged. I didn’t see it coming, I wasn’t prepared – I mean, Battersea’s got gentrified since my day, hasn’t it? Mugged not by one of those Teddy Boy ghosts from the past but mugged by a slip of a girl (I use the phrase advisedly, with apologies to the Sexism Police), a firebrand female whom I imagine eats fishhooks for lunch. I’m on the ground – not those well-worn paving slabs of Battersea Park Road but on the floor of a theatre, Theatre 503, upstairs at the Latchmere pub, an old style London pub, thankfully unchanged in configuration since I stood outside waiting to return beer bottles for the deposit.
The mugger is Eve Steele and she is performing her self-penned play Life By The Throat. I never expect anything from a show except the unexpected and this one took me totally unawares. It’s a one-person show, a seventy-minute typhoon-tirade, a poverty-porn-poem delivered with shock-jock ferocity, a full-frontal assault on our senses, our prejudices and our deeply lurking trepidations.
Steele is a one-woman tour de force who plays a babe-kid- boy-teen- youth-lad-dad- man-alco with passion, empathy and understanding. Her creation, James Joseph Patrick Keogh, is a mad-little-brained Hulme Mancunian of Irish extraction and despite being a top athlete at School runs the full gamut of thieving, smoking, drinking, soft drug use, sexual abuse, borstal time, heavy drug use, jail time, drug dependency and alcoholism. Steele gives us every nuance of this beleaguered life, the highs, the lows, the very highs, the rock-bottoms, the drunken rages. She (and again, I use the term advisedly) is James, her every action, her every gesture her every glance, her every aside gives us the complete package of the man she is depicting and it’s very, very convincing. It feels like taking on a kick-boxer, a cage fighter and an MMA exponent all rolled into one: a hard-hitting, no-holds- barred, gut-wrenching relentless diatribe telling the truth about life below the poverty line in this country today.
Yes, the show can be filed under Ken Loach but it’s not overtly political, overtly socialist in its outlook – though socialists may well want to claim it as their own: it’s just overtly Life. And channeling Oscar Wilde – “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” – as part of the repetitive prison sequences adds a literary perspective through which we can view the sordid, tawdry life that Steele is delineating.
Steele’s partner in crimes in this production is director Ed Jones – together they form Most Wanted Theatre Company. Jones demonstrably shares Steele’s empathy for the subject and his direction is subtle yet brash, nuanced yet very much in-yer- face. I’m not going to allow him to escape scot-free from what is blatantly a joint mugging: it’s very much a perpetrator-and-mastermind relationship. Particularly smart is the use of sudden loud music for Keogh to chill/rant/dance/fight to. It’s a clever mix of ska-reggae- club classics and anyone who incorporates the Althea and Donna classic “Uptown Top Ranking” is going to get my vote every time.
The trip south of the river to Theatre 503 is always rewarding – an innovative and stimulating Fringe theatre that rarely disappoints. This is Artistic Director Lisa Spirling’s first season and she has bought into 503’s well-established New Writing pedigree with an eclectic and stimulating collection of shows.
Scheduling Life By The Throat into the mix is an inspired decision though Ms Spirling may need to check her Public Liability Insurance to see what the cover limit is for muggings.
Review by Peter Yates
The remarkable life of Jamie Joseph Patrick Keogh is channelled in this one-woman show inspired by interviews with and acting as a celebration of men who have been involved with drugs, been through the criminal justice system and had to cope with adversity.
Born into poverty and madness, Jamie is a force to be reckoned with. He survives on wit, laughter and ingenious schemes. Whether it’s sprinting on sports day, chasing oblivion or running away from cops, it seems to be only a matter of time for him before a crash comes.
In an age when masculinity is in crisis, this is both a show about it means to be a man from a broken background and what it means to be a woman who has loved a man like that. The show celebrates the ingenuity of the thief and the chancer – the bad boy – but also reaches out to him with love, compassion and understanding, aims to give colourful insight into the lives of those living on the edge in society.
Most Wanted in association with LittleMighty present
Life by The Throat
Award-winning writer-performer and former Coronation Street star Eve Steele performs one man’s life from birth to death in this gritty, true-to-life performance exploring class, gender and living life on society’s margins
Written and performed by Eve Steele | Directed by Ed Jones
UK TOUR: Tuesday 18 April – Saturday 20 May 2017 (further dates to be announced)
Written and performed by Eve Steele Produced by LittleMighty
Directed by Ed Jones
www.littlemighty.co.uk | @MostWantedShows | @littlemightyUK | #LifebyTheThroat
Running time: 1 hour approx | Age restriction: 14+