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Review of Peddling at the Arcola Theatre

Harry Melling in Peddling
Photo Credit Bill Knight

The Arcola Theatre is justly proud of its reputation for putting on new and different pieces and with “Peddling” that reputation is enhanced yet again. “Peddling” is a poetic play written and performed by Harry Melling, which starts with an explosion of sound, light and movement and ends quietly, emotionally and with the audience completely drawn in.

Entering the performance space, Studio 2, the audience is confronted by a large mesh curtained, for want of a better word, box in the middle. Looking through the curtains, you can see what looks like a structure – maybe a pole or a tree, it’s difficult to say at this point – in the middle and beyond that, the rest of the audience sitting round all four sides of the box. Almost like being on the tube, everyone seems to be avoiding making eye contact with the people opposite and there is a concern that having people facing you could be distracting during the show. But, when the house lights go down and the ‘box’ lights come on, the space is transformed. As if by magic all that you can see is the interior of the box and the ‘boy’ on top of the pole, almost as if the box forms the entirety of his world, keeping him in his designated place. It is difficult to add detail here, as the one thing I don’t want to do is inadvertently give out spoilers, because it is important for the audience to travel along this journey with the ‘boy’ so I will limit myself to the information freely available. The ‘boy’ has woken up on in a field in London, with a firework in his hand and the show takes both the ‘boy’ and the audience back in time to find out how he got there. Not much of a giveaway there and the journey is neither fun nor comfortable for anyone but it instantly hooks the audience and draws them into the world of this ‘boy’. A world that most of us only ever observe from the sidelines, thanking our lucky stars for not having to inhabit it.

It is always amazing when a show goes in the opposite direction to my initial thoughts about it. I’m no great fan of poetry, nor particularly of one-man shows, so to be honest I was not expecting to really enjoy “Peddling” and yet from the first moment, I was mesmerised by every single aspect of the show. Harry Melling’s writing is honest and deep, delivering the life of his ‘boy’ with a poetic smoothness that does not detract from the coarseness of the language or the reality of the streets where he peddles his wares. As well as being a talented writer, Harry is a really good actor. His vocal delivery, is just right as are his movements and use of his body. Steve Atkinson’s direction really enhances the words, being at times frantic and highly athletic and others slow and gentle as the ‘boy’ tries to piece together the events that led to him waking up where he did. The lighting design by Azusa Ono was really superb in making every inch of the box that was the world of the ‘boy’ work and seem so much bigger than it really was whilst still trapping him in a limited space. Touches, such as using single light bulbs at different heights to bring people to life, sound very ‘arty’ in a review, but worked amazingly well in real life providing a point of focus for the ‘boy’ and those observing him, in his interactions. All of the individual elements – writing, direction, set design (by Lily Arnold), sound (George Dennis) and performance – come together so well in this production, that by the end, as the ‘boy’ is standing alone, in all his teenage vulnerability, I was totally engrossed in his story and willing him to go on from here and have the happy life he so richly deserved.

A really moving and compelling show, brilliantly put together and delivered, my final word of advice? make sure you buy a programme – which includes the script – so that you can re-read it and re-live this excellent show whenever you are going through a #FirstWorldProblem and need a dose of reality to bring you back to earth.
4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

HighTide Festival Theatre presents
Peddling by Harry Melling

going house to house,
door to door –
knock knocking –
professional doorstep hopping,
hoping that someone might show an interest.

The earth grumbles. Growling. Rising. The city street-lamps flicker up. We’re in a field somewhere in London. A pedlar boy awakes lying on the grass, in his hand a firework. How did he get here? To answer that question he must venture back to the very start via the doorsteps of privileged London and the cracks that swallow thousands of young Londoners every year.

Harry Melling’s poetic début play opened to acclaim at the annual HighTide Festival and Off-Broadway. For its premiere in London, the author again performs his own work. A moving exploration into family, identity and the 6000 Londoners who sleep rough every night on the Capital’s streets.

Directed by Steven Atkinson
Designer Lily Arnold Lighting Designer Azusa Ono Sound Designer George Dennis Dramaturg Prasanna Puwanarajah Photographer Nobby Clark
Cast: Harry Melling

4th to 28th March 2015
Ticket Information and Times
Monday – Saturday evenings at 8pm
£17 / £12 concessions
Saturday matinees at 3:30pm
£12 / £10 concessions
Pay What You Can Tuesdays (tickets in person from 6pm – limited and subject to availability)
Tickets are £10 or less with Arcola Passport
Running time: 50 mins approximately
Recommended for ages 14+

Sunday 8th March 2015


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