Review: Theatre Uncut 2014, Soho Theatre

“Knock knock,
Who’s there,
The Welfare State…” 

The Theatre Uncut initiative was set up in 2010 as a response to the proposed government cuts in arts spending as it invited a number of playwrights to write short plays which would then be available to download and perform “rights-free in a week of mass theatrical action”. An impressive array of writers – Neil LaBute, Mark Ravenhill, Lucy Kirkwood – have gotten involved across the past few years and one of this year’s best new plays – Clara Brennan’s Spine – started life in this format in 2012.

Devised as a way of creating a rapid response to current political concerns, this year’s theme has coalesced around the provovation ‘Knowledge is Power, Knowledge is Change’ and the five writers collaboratively involved are Anders Lustgarten, Clara Brennan, Inua Ellams, Vivienne Franzmann and Hayley Squires. And a motley crew they make up, punching hard with a raw energy that is variable and visceral and vocal and vibrant.

From a National Lottery driven to dystopian extremes to the desperate measures people are driven to by the bedroom tax, from audience apathy and wilful blindness to rapacious capitalist greed depleting the world’s natural resources, the evening swirls around contemporary concerns with fervent passion which occasionally strikes home most effectively. Franzmann’s The Most Horrific works best here, fiercely indicting the way in which so much bad news is so easily dismissed by a desensitised audience.

Ellams’ Reset Everything and Lustgarten’s The Finger of God explored a dark vein of comedy as ways to fix the bedroom tax (blow up your spare room) and the National Lottery (add ever-grisly punishments in with the prizes) were investigated by the resourceful multi-roling company of four – Faith Alabi, Ruairi Conaghan, Ruth Gibson and Conor MacNeill all sharing the limelight (with stage debutant Alabi emerging particularly impressively).

Hannah Price’s direction has a fierce pace about it, facilitated by Carla Goodman’s IKEA-worthy, multi-purpose set, which means nothing lingers too long – the verbal onslaught of Brennan’s PACHAMAMA lost its impact midway through for me and the low-key nature of Hayley Squires’ Ira Provitt and The Man made for an atypical finale. But the rapid pick’n’mix nature of the evening means that there’s much food for thought – for all tastes too – and with post show discussions every night, room to expand on what the short plays offer up.

Running time: 75 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 30th November, then touring to Brighton, Bristol, Canterbury and Liverpool

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