Thursday, 18 July 2019

Hull on Earth… Starved, The Hope Theatre

“You stop having dreams don’t you, when real life keeps on slapping you in the face, down and down…”

There’s a surreal moment near the end of this play when the lighting flicks on an off and the actors move around the central space like two people filmed in stop motion on a CCTV or, more accurately, two rats in a laboratory. The Hope’s promethean stage has a “room” delineated by string, rope and ribbons in which Michael Black (The Lad) and Alana Connaughton (The Lass) spend almost all of their time: they’re right in front of us and yet that thin barrier holds throughout their mesmeric double-header. At one point The Lass looked out of the “window” at the folk next door and I strained to see what she was seeing…

Starved tells of two youngsters on the run from a crime that only gradually becomes apparent. They’re exiled from friends and family, trying to avoid the law in a miserable bedsit on one of Hull’s most unforgiving estates – you can imagine this scenario all over the country and the human dynamics take you away from any knee-jerk political reading. Universal credit gets a mention but only in the context of just one more thing dragging people down; another slap in the face for people who can’t see straight for blinking.

All that matters is the relationship before us, the bigger picture is a luxury they simply cannot afford as they live from hand to mouth on the brink of disaster. The Lass stays in as her fella goes out scavenging bringing them back Cup-a-Soups and, if they’re lucky Rich Tea biscuits although the class divide between even these two is highlighted by her preference for Custard Creams or even Hobnobs.
Alana Connaughton and Michael Black. All shots credit lhphotoshots
She’ll get what she’s given and the two drink to excess every day in the absence of anything better to do and to deaden the ever-present fear that drives them under and further away from facing the consequences of what they have done.

“You push and you push and you push… you make me like this!”

The relationship is skilfully balanced with the couple sniping constantly and making up as they go, there’s affection, jealousy and there’s blame; are they getting to know each other or just doomed? It’s to Michael Black’s credit that the play leaves almost everything open: this is a cycle of dangerous possibilities and yet there’s a distant hope for the young people.

It’s in our consideration of just how the two might move on that the play is “political” as what it presents feels almost like a documentary than a drama. “Everything and everyone is pointless…” and “it’s just getting worse…” how are we to contribute to a solution?

The direction from Matt Strachan enables the two performers to unleash so much emotion within this constrained space – smaller even than usual – and both are amazing to watch, Alana crying real tears of frustration, fear and rage as the man she loves or could love, blows up in her face. Michael Black has a brooding presence and portrays a softness that gives The Lass and us hope.
Caught in a web... Credit lhphotoshots
There’s no doubt they are both sorry for what has happened as well as what they did and they want to change but how can they in the face of consequences which may damn them to this existence for good.

Mention should be made of Ruth Phillips’ movement direction – a lot to choreograph in that imagined room, as well as the design from Esteniah Williams, Lighting from Aiden Bromley and Sound from Nicola Chang.

Ithankyou Theatre rating: **** Another transformative experience at the Hope and a couple I will not soon forget. Their personal becomes our political in subtle and challenging ways, a smartly sculpted story.



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