Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Theatre review: Shallow Slumber

Taking its cue from a notorious case from a few years back, which saw the media clamouring for social workers to blame and sack, Shallow Slumber by playwright and social worker Chris Lee tries to give an insight into the much-maligned profession. Director Mary Nighy has the action staged in traverse, a sensible choice for a series of often confrontational scenes between two women. Playing out in reverse, we see Dawn (Amy Cudden) unexpectedly arrive at Moira's (Alexandra Gilbreath) house. Moira used to be her social worker several years ago, but a terrible event ended their relationship, and resulted in Moira's sacking. Even though she's asking for help Dawn's attitude is defensive, and as we go back we see this has never changed much, right back to when she was a former crack addict whose new baby Social Services were monitoring. Nighy keeps the action very understated which helps produce an intense, powerful effect, and the two performers are just excellent.

My sister's flatmate Amy is a social worker and saw tonight's performance. She liked the show but did say that Moira said a lot of things a real social worker would never say, such as listing her qualifications to her client. I don't mind things like that, after all you need to get certain information out to an audience, not all of whom are going to have a background in the subject. Dawn's dialogue was more problematic to me - I asked Amy if she'd ever dealt with such an erudite crack whore. Given the naturalistic tone of the piece, her language is just too eloquent to feel real; I kept expecting the twist where she'd first got hooked on crack at Roedean. Cudden's accent and performance are the only things differentiating her speech from the more middle class Moira, Lee's contribution is mainly the occasional "fuck" and "cunt" to make her sound a bit council. I found this distracting, but not enough to spoil a powerful and disturbing play.

I didn't ask Amy how she felt about the script referencing two characters with her name, BOTH OF THEM DEAD, but I'm going to assume she was basically thrilled about it.

Shallow Slumber by Chris Lee is booking until the 18th of February at Soho Theatre Upstairs.

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes¹ straight through.

¹I'm including the ten minutes' delay starting in the total running time, because I know if I'm checking it in advance I'm probably trying to time my journey home, so how long it would run if it started on time isn't particularly useful. So if you check on here I'll give you how long you're actually likely to be in the theatre, especially with persistent offenders like Soho, who tend to treat GMT as more of a suggestion.


  1. Well it's always flattering to be used as an inspiration for dead children and suicidal crack whores!