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Starved review at Hope Theatre, London – ‘richly written and strikingly designed’

Michael Black and Alana Connaughton in Starved at Hope Theatre, London. Photo: lhphotoshots
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Lad and Lass are on the run – from what, it’s never quite clear. They’re living in a smelly squat, fighting about nothing and dreaming about what they’d eat if they could afford anything other than stolen Cup-a-Soup. She’d have a bacon sandwich with mayonnaise; he’d have a pizza from Papa John’s.

Michael Black’s play – in which he also stars – is an intimate portrait of life in the north of England when you’re young and poor. Esteniah Williams’ design brings to mind Tracey Emin’s Turner Prize-nominated artwork, My Bed, though it’s much filthier. There is no plush white bedding, just a single stained pillow and, instead of a proper duvet, there’s a sad worn out sleeping bag on a dirty, bare mattress. Around it, there’s a litter of empty tins and a bottle of vodka.

Set in-the-round, the stage is enclosed by a tangled web of ropes and if you look closely, there’s the outline of a union jack. This is England, and these kids are trapped by their circumstances.

Black’s writing is rich, often very funny and full of potential. Matt Strachan’s production, capably performed by Black and Alana Connaughton, also features strong movement direction from Ruth Phillips – her gorgeous tableaus, underscored by Nicola Chang’s resonant slow-tempo sound design, beautifully illustrate the passage of time.

However, Strachan’s direction does not capitalise on these elements in a way that makes the story compelling. Scenes of huge emotion fall flat because you’re never entirely sure why you should care about these characters. But maybe that’s the point – society doesn’t care enough about poverty-stricken young people in the north of England.

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A richly written play about a pair of runaway teens that has great potential but sometimes falls flat