Monday, 22 July 2013

Theatre review: The Precariat

Fin (Scott Chambers) is a teenager preparing to do his A'levels, and expected to do well as he's highly intelligent and articulate, hard-working and comfortably placed somewhere in the middle of the social strata at school. But if his prospects look good academically, his home life begs to disagree, as he belongs to a new class Chris Dunkley's new play christens The Precariat: A generation growing up into an uncertain future, precariously balanced and at the whim of the global markets. Living with his unemployed, depressive mother Bethan (Kirsty Besterman,) Fin's part-time job at a fried chicken shop makes up a disproportionate part of the family income. And ever since the 2011 riots, his younger brother has got increasingly involved with the local drug dealing gang, the unseen Leo becoming a constant concern for his older brother, whose tragedy may be that he's all too acutely aware of his own limited prospects.

The Precariat opens with Fin leaving his mother a video message attempting to explain a desperate event he's been involved in. The flashbacks over the year or so leading up to it show him becoming politicised and aware of current events, but unlike characters in many recent plays he's not vulnerable to extremists. Instead it's his own thirst for knowledge and justice that sees him want to give up the apparently sensible path he's currently on.

When it comes to my end-of-year roundup I'm sure I'll have to have a whole "newcomers" section, as 2013 seems to be throwing up more and more young actors I hope to see a lot more of in future - most recently only two days ago. And now the latest is Scott Chambers, who as Fin is charged with anchoring the play, a character surrounded by unreliable adults who has to take on a role as the solid centre that he's not as prepared for as he looks. Chambers is intense, charismatic and can turn on a sixpence, a real find. One downside of focusing the play on a teenager though is that, as the 16-year-old's beliefs are assaulted and confused daily by new information, so the play itself seems frustratingly out of focus to start with - although by the end its structure has become much clearer in retrospect.

Actor Chris New takes a confident first stab at theatre directing, the limitations of the low-budget Sunday-Tuesday slot at the Finborough leading him to build his production around a cluster of old TV sets on which background images show up, as well as occasional video scenes, like Fin's ill-fated attempt at parkour. And there's more lo-tech inventiveness as well - Fin's only real confidante is the girl who works at the drive-through window at his work, her voice provided by Besterman speaking into the plastic cover from a CD spindle.

Although there's the odd shot of humour (like Ben Mars as Bethan's banker boyfriend Tim, and his sexual fantasies in which he's Mitt Romney) for the most part this is a pretty dark piece, but pretty gripping. Besterman backs up Chambers with a complex character whose attitude towards her sons, particularly the younger, can go from scouring the streets for him to barely registering that he's practically vanished. And Mars and David Hayler as Fin's minor drug dealer father provide two very differently flawed male role models. The Precariat isn't always the clearest piece, but it does make you care about its lost central character.

The Precariat by Chris Dunkley is booking in repertory until the 30th of July at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes straight through.

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