When he announced Katherine Soper’s play as the winner of the 2015 Bruntwood Prize For Playwriting, judge Sir Nicholas Hytner hailed it as a work of “such eloquence, such quiet craft, such dignity and such compassion”. Now we can see its world premiere production after a year or so of development, and one can only enthusiastically endorse that assessment of this timely and tough but tender marvel.
Sharply directed by the Royal Exchange’s associate artistic director Matthew Xia, fresh from his critically acclaimed production of Blue/Orange at the Young Vic, this thoroughly contemporary tale had moments of almost unbearable tension, sweet silliness and heartbreaking desperation as it cuts to the heart of our attitudes to work, employment and the unemployed. Somehow it even manages to work Meatloaf’s I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) into the mix and miraculously, not to say hilariously, turns a rubbishy rendition of a ridiculous pop song into a marvellously poignant moment.
Young Tamsin Carmody (Erin Doherty) is desperate for any job, even one as soul-destroying as packing boxes in a warehouse, on the clock, to a harsh target, with a zero-hour contract. After the death of her mother, she feels she has to support her obsessive-compulsive brother Dean (Joseph Quinn), so in thrall to rituals including obsessive hair-gelling that he can barely feed himself, let alone set foot outside the flat. Yet he has been declared fit for work and their benefits have been cut, so there are phone calls to make, appeals to lodge and endless forms to fill in even as Tamsin is urged to pack faster and work harder by The Lead (Aleksadar Mikic).
A candle of hope flickers when she finds out that her co-worker Luke Mburu (Shaquille Ali-Yebuah) used to go to school with Dean and wants to meet her after work. But how can she find time for romance when she barely has time to take off her work boots?
Much as when I was lucky enough to see the original production of Black Roses: The Killing Of Sophie Lancaster several years ago in this very space, this brilliant production drew parallels, leaving many among its enthralled audience emotionally drained and barely able to speak at the end, with some of them actually in tears.
Yes, it is that good and a thoroughly modern story of the sort that needs to be told. See it if you can.