Hunger by Amanda Lomas based on the novel by Knut Hamsun. The Arcola Studio two, 24 Ashwin Street, LondonE8 to 21 December 2019. 4****. William Russell

By Amanda Lomas
Adapted from the novel by Knut Hansen.
The Arcola, Studio 2, 24 Ashwin Street, London E8 3DL to 21 December 2019.
Mon – say 8pm. Mat Sat 3pm.
75mins No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646

The novel may have been written in 1890 but Amanda Lomas has made this stage adaptation very much a play for today, one that will rock you back on your heels, especially in today’s world of rough sleepers and people seeking money for a bed for the night on the Overground one takes to get there. The Young Man of the play – a terrific performance by Kwami Odoom – is with us. Forget, although the Arcola has to print disclaimer, given today’s climate, that Hamsun proved to be a Nazi sympathiser and gave his Nobel Prize to Goebbels, wrote a eulogy for Hitler and was to prove a racists. That was to come. And in any case the play is set in a different time and looks at the problems faced by a young person whose world collapses and they end up on the streets now. In other words take it for what it is and not what you may think about who Hansen became and you end up with a very moving and disturbing piece of theatre created by Amanda Lomas. It has been directed well by Fay Lomas who has secured fine performances from her cast of four players, three of whom must create all the people the Young Man encounters on his journey to the lowest depths. There is no special pleading. The Young Man is a pain in the neck, rash, obsessed with blaming God, convinced he is somehow superior to others – after all he wants to be a writer – and brings some of his misfortunes down upon himself. But he is, for all that, a victim of an uncaring society.
The Young Man is first encountered with his student friends out on the town, but it rapidly becomes clear he is short of money and that his studies are taking second place to his desire to be a writer. It proceeds from there – he needs work, lives in a seaside town, fails to get a job gutting fish because he doesn’t know one fish from another and hasn’t brought a knife to gut them with although, as the employer says, it was stipulated in the advertisement that applicants bring their own tools. His attempt at becoming a book keeper for a shopkeeper fails because he has put the wrong date on his letter of application which lack of attention to detail does not impress his would be employer. He tries to get work published in a newspaper and manages one article, but it is not enough to keep him afloat even although the editor is sympathetic. His landlady lets him off with the rent for a while but eventually enough is enough and he ends up on the streets, has to pawn things and on it goes. Nobody wants to help. He gets beaten up by a hooray Henry and his bird, sleeps rough, claims to be a student when admitting to be down and out might have found him a refuge, is harassed by the cop on the local beat and all the time howls at a malignant God for doing this to him. It is hard to watch because outside the theatre one has passed the Young Man sitting in a doorway in the rain with a paper cup for donations on the pavement. On the other hand you leave, take the Overground and down comes someone seeking money accompanied by a remarkably well fed bulldog who curses the unseeing, unresponsive passengers. Fay Lomas keeps her players swirling around the minimal set – some screens, behind which they disappear, a lectern come table, and somewhere for the Young Man to collect the things he pawns and to retreat to when it all gets too much. There is a particularly painful encounter with a girl he keeps seeing who eventually takes him home, only to throw him out, and one with his best friend who tries to help by pawning his watch which is just as painful because it does no good.
As a piece of provocative theatre Hunger, which presents both the Young Man’s predicament and his inner life, the dreams that sustain him, the religion that lets him down, could hardly be bettered.
The Young Man: Kwami Odoom.
Ensemble: Archie Backhouse, Katie Eldred, Jessica Tomlinson.
Director: Fay Lomas.
Designer: Anna Kezia Williams.
Lighting Designer: Rajiv Pattani.
Composer: Lex Kosanke.
Movement Director: Natasha Harrison.
Production Photographer: Alex Brenner.

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