Thursday, 19 January 2017

Theatre review: Wish List

For the second year the Royal Court partners with the Royal Exchange in Manchester to stage a Bruntwood Prize winner, and following last year's Yen there's another kitchen sink drama looking at an easily ignored class, whose every last lifeline the current government's all too gleefully eager to cut. Tamsin (Erin Doherty) and her brother Dean (Joseph Quinn) had fairly promising and ordinary lives ahead of them until their mother's death, which led Tamsin to neglect her education and Dean's mild OCD to turn into a completely debilitating condition: He's fixated with all food and drink being scalding hot and has a system of knocking on wood to get him through the day, but his most obsessive ritual is constantly washing and styling his hair. He can barely dress himself let alone work, so it's down to Tamsin to support them both (their father is never mentioned,) but with no qualifications all she can find is a zero-hours contract packing goods for NOT AMAZON DEFINITELY NOT AMAZON.

They're also dealing with the threat of Dean losing his benefits because, in what appears to be a deliberately misconstrued assessment, he's been found fit for work.

Katherine Soper's Wish List is a deserving award winner as that synopsis sounds like it's ticking social issues off a list, but it makes its points in an engrossing and surprisingly entertaining story. Tamsin's home life is movingly depicted with all the difficulty of living with someone controlled by rituals (although he doesn't like that term,) while a system set up to help him dismisses his particular needs. Meanwhile her long working day at NOT AMAZON IT'S A COMPLETELY IMAGINARY COMPANY is so horrific it borders on the absurd, with ever-increasing packing targets and a black mark on her record for taking two toilet breaks in a ten-and-a-half hour shift.

But Soper also reserves some sympathy for her jobsworth supervisor The Lead (Aleksandar Mikic,) who has his own targets to meet. The forms that NOT AMAZON WHY WOULD YOU THINK IT WAS AMAZON make him fill out to explain why Tamsin isn't reaching impossible targets are full of leading questions reminiscent of the assessments determined to find Dean fit for work. Matthew Xia's production is well-cast, Quinn balancing Dean's lovability with how frustrating and sometimes terrifying he must be to live with. Shaquille Ali-Yebuah steals his scenes as Luke, a 16-year-old co-worker whose confident image crumbles when he tries to ask Tamsin out. The pair's recreation of "I'd Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" is a truly joyous moment that the upcoming Meat Loaf musical will find hard to top. But despite everyone around her doing great work Doherty still stands out as the exhausted lead.

Ana Inés Jabares Pita's traverse set design nicely blurs the line between work and home, with the NOT AMAZON NOBODY SAID AMAZON conveyor belt delivering props for scene changes. My only mild criticism is that it could maybe be a tiny bit tighter, as the 105 minutes sometimes go quite slowly, although it's never actually dull. It's just nitpicking though for a show that impresses and does very little wrong.

Wish List by Katherine Soper is booking until the 11th of February at the Royal Court's Jerwood Theatre Upstairs (returns and day seats only.)

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes straight through.

Photo credit: Jonathan Keenan.

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