by Anders Lustgarten.
Soho Theatre 21 Dean Street W1D 3NE To 25 July 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.15pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 10min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7478 0100.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 30 June.
Unsentimental rays of light in a dark world vividly evoked.
Nothing could be simpler than the means. Two actors tell separate stories, each in everyday working clothes, rising from the audience to take a small, bare circular central stage.
Yet hardly anything could be greater than the implications of their stories, the nature of humanity and the suffering power creates in the wrong hands. Stefano, a fisherman inheriting a traditional way of living, has it disrupted as boatloads of people from Africa, escapees from oppression and fear, arrive at his island, the first piece of Europe.
Most have been carried by profiteering, callous traffickers who don’t mind how many make it, but will be sure to rape the women first. Picking up the pieces, alive or, as often, dead is Stefano’s new trade as a fisher of men.
Denise, a young British-Chinese woman, works her way through higher education in Leeds as debt-collector for a British equivalent to the leeches exploiting migrants, a payday loan company. Hard-working, she has no sympathy for lazy people who borrow and get into debt. Until one woman treats her in a friendly way, inviting her round for a meal.
It should be an unlikely, sentimental incident but playwright Anders Lustgarten has control of his material and the forces flowing behind events. It’s the start of a new consciousness which develops as Denise accompanies her terminally-ill mother through the English Benefits system, as soulless as the politician devising it, and operating not to help but to trick anyone seeking help.
International and domestic forces highlight each other’s heartlessness, combated by a new human recognition as Stefano and Denise both start seeing in other people a face they know.
Steven Atkinson’s production is well-cast, Ferdy Roberts’ solid, rugged Stefano a pillar of strength, Louise Mai Newberry’s lithe, ever-mobile Denise having an element of humour among her sharp-edged anger. Atkinson and designer Lucy Osborne rightly give the focus to the actors. There are no frills here, but plenty of thrills – not invented as surface devices by the dramatist, but impacted in his developing stories and the aspects of humanity they eventually reveal in a coldly exploitative world.
Stefano: Ferdy Roberts.
Denise: Louise Mai Newberry.
Director: Steven Atkinson.
Designer: Lucy Osborne.
Lighting: Elliot Griggs.
Sound: Isobel Waller-Bridge.
Dramaturg: Nina Steiger.
Associate designer: James Turner.