Market Boy by David Eldridge. The Union Theatre, London SE1. 4****. William Russell

By David Eldridge.
The Union Theatre, 229 Union Street, London SE1 0LR to 11May 2019.
Tues-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7261 9876

Review: William Russell 25 April

Making ones mark in the market
Sometimes director and cast can take a play which is dated and possibly past its sell by date and through the brio of performances and direction breathe new life into it. David Eldridge’s 2006 play set in Thatcher’s Britain deals with the rise of a lad who starts work selling shoes age thirteen in Romford’s street market and ends up headed for the City older but not really much wiser and much less nice than when he began. There is a running gag about the Iron Lady – one does wonder just how many people still get the milk bottle joke – funny in 2006 perhaps but today really lost in the mists of time. Thatcherism has been and gone, as indeed have all those sharp lads making a mint in the City. New breeds of them and politicians have taken over.
But Eldridge has created a splendid mix of types of the time and created a play which makes one think of Ben Johnson and Bartholomew Fair, one in which all human life is there. At the heart of his tale is Boy, an innocent abroad played with rumpled charm by Tommy Knight, brought by his Mum to the market to get a job with the Trader – Andy Umerah oozing sex appeal by the gallon. Trader’s assorted lads resent the newcomer but Boy, after a shaky start, proves a natural at the job and starts to become part of the market scene, losing his cherry in due course to Girl, played by Claudia Archer, who works at the fishmongers across the way making delightfully clear that she already knows a lot about men and big boys.
Market Trader is not a musical but there are lots of slickly choreographed routines and pop songs of the time to speed it on its way, and a great deal direct contact between cast and the audience, a ploy embarrassing when badly done, but here director Nicky Allpress gets away with it. There is plenty to enjoy – the one time soldier who sells drugs, the arm wrestling lesbian everyone tolerates in her delusion of strength, the butcher who delivers a superb anthem to the delights of meat when telling the gormless Boy how to give Girl a steak supper one evening, a date at home interrupted by Mum, and the problems they all have with the bullying market manager. Grant Leat has fun delivering his meat monologue, while Lucy Walker-Evans struts around to the manner and manor born as the most beautiful woman in Romford, although one would have thought white stilettos would have been her choice of footwear. But this is an ensemble affair and the performances are all good so no more name dropping.
The play still has something to say about working class England, street markets still flourish, although towards the end of the Thatcher years they went into decline, but today it does need the kiss of life if it is to work in a very different political climate. It duly gets it.

Girl: Claudia Archer.
Leather Boy/New Boy: Michael Ayiotus.
Kate Arms: Helen Belbin.
The Toby: Mat Betteridge.
Fly Pitcher/Ensemble: Esmonde Cole.
Sticky Nicky: Lily Cooper.
Snooks: Joey Ellis.
Steve the Nutter: Drew Elston.
Mum: Amy Gallagher.
Thatcher/Ensemble: Rachel Fenwick.
Fish Woman: Taylor George.
Don: Callum Higgins.
Boy: Tommy Knight.
Meat Man: Grant Leaf.
Mouse: Joe Mason.
Leather Man: Forest Morgan.
Spanish Girl/Ensemble: Georgina Seville.
Fat Annie: Katy Slater.
Trader: Andy Umerah.
Most Beautiful Woman in Romford: Lucy Walker-Evans.
Jason/ Labour Candidate: Oliver Westlake.

Director: Nicky Allpress.
Choreographer: Adam Haigh.
Designer: Justin Williams.
Lighting Designer: Alex Musgrave.
Assistant Director: Adam George-Smith.
Production Photographs: Mark Senior.

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