The increase in university tuition fees was one of the defining actions of the last government. It cost the Liberal Democrats dearly in the recent general election. And it thrust higher education into crisis, leaving students facing a difficult future.
The effects are at the heart of this new play. Written and directed by Tim Cook, a graduate of the Royal Court Theatre’s Young Writers Programme, Crushed follows three uni friends – Hannah (Amani Zardoe), Sam (Cook) and Amy (Hatty Jones) – and the rippling aftermath of their involvement in a tuition-fee protest march.
With its tale of youthful idealism ground down by bureaucracy and encroaching adult life, where big dreams don’t pay mortgages or save relationships, this play doesn’t say much that’s new. Cook’s skill lies in spinning this into sharp-eyed comedy and blunt honesty.
With spoken-word poetry and documentary-style descriptions of the fearful buzz when the three characters face down riot-geared police, Cook captures the anxious pulse of a conflicted generation – one that is critical of its privileges, but also feels trapped and that it needs to do something.
The cast give strong performances, gently pricking their characters’ pretensions. And while its raggedy flashback structure loses wind by the end, this play’s nimble intelligence and clear voice promises much for Cook’s future as a writer.