These are tough times to present the world with gritty drama. For at least a couple of years now the day to day lives of people across this planet have been messed around, changed, altered by things completely out of our ability to control them. This context will undoubtedly give us a different perspective on this play than we might have had at the notional time it is set in, about a decade ago.
This play takes us on a timewarp journey to the hard hitting dramas of the 1960s, when the West End appeared to suddenly discover working class people, a little after places like Stratford did. This gives context to Muck, and allows a comparison which reflects very well upon the producers, writers and performers of this new work.
The producing company call themselves FenCity Players and this is their first production. The two performers and writers in the company originate from somewhere between Wisbech and London, hence the name. They are Gabriella Padula as Kelly, and Joseph Connolly as George, sister and brother brought together to mourn the loss of their Nan who was also Kelly’s house mate in their West London council flat. George’s return for the funeral allows each of them to reveal their vulnerabilities and problems to us. Their world includes poverty, drugs and violence and they each have found different solutions to their struggle with life.
The heart of this work is the close relationship between the siblings, even as they struggle with each other’s weaknesses and predilections. In a fairly bleak drama this is the positive bit we can cling on to. Many other characters are referred to, but only one appears, a former friend and lover and thug called Joby (James Warburton).
This was the first production of this well written play, and it felt distinctly raw. With some taut editing and good direction it could become a powerful landmark drama. For me, the introduction of a third character did not help, and could be better presented as a looming threat rather than a somewhat inexplicable third person in a two-hand show. The implied fear of malevolence has more power than the actual appearance of someone who looks bit too nice to be really threatening.
All this matters because the two performers and writers have created a powerful and moving play that is relevant, personal and draws you into a complex family relationship that many of us will find some familiarity with. It touches on the struggles of a generation that have lost the securities and certainties of their preceding generation, who could expect to be housed and secure in a way that nobody can now.
George has apparently escaped to a happier lifestyle, with a partner and a piggery in Norfolk, while Kelly remained to struggle on in an interdependency with her Nan and chemical comforts. Yet neither the pigs or the coke seem to be what they really need as they each slide back into a life they ought to escape from.
The company may have struggled between the need for on-stage drama and the delivery of a finely honed dialogue between two very distinctive and warm characters. I hope that they develop the nuance of the dialogue, which is already very well written and engaging and is the core of this work. Two accomplished actors gave us a memorable and moving work this evening, and with a bit more work they will have created a landmark work that will resonate for years to come. Their closeness as a company comes across in the warmth of their onstage interaction while the refreshingly rude language helps us to believe that we are just looking into some very real lives.
There are messages in the play, it would be impossible to cover this subject matter without taking a political view, but the messages are implicit rather than explicit. Nonetheless, if you have been an architect of UK housing policy at any time in the last forty years you should probably just go and jump in the sea now.
The dialogue is very quick, and you may need to tune your ear at first to the particular accent and vocabulary although a well known BBC soap opera will get you to within about 20 miles of it. Gabriella and Joseph have created two memorable characters who with luck we will be hearing a lot more from. Their creation certainly merits more attention. Muck is pure class!
© Julian Swainson, Norwich Eye, 20 January 2022
More here: https://norwichartscentre.co.uk/nac-stories/live-debut-for-nac-commissioned-show-muck/