In Amanda Lomas’ adaptation of Hunger, a young student, with dreams of becoming a writer, loses his friends, his lodgings and eventually his sanity as he struggles and fails to find work and money. Though the play is based on an 1890 novel by Knut Hamsun, the brutal realities of poverty and social exclusion are painfully relevant.
Kwami Odoom plays the unnamed young man with an energy that swings from rascally to frenetic – his garrulous wit turns to panicked agitation as hunger pangs take hold, accompanied by flashes of light from the floor. Rajiv Pattani’s lighting design creates strobing silhouettes and dizzying projected colours as Odoom slips in and out of his hallucinatory, interior world.
Archie Backhouse, Katie Eldred and Jessica Tomlinson play an ensemble cast: passersby, romantic interests, grocers, police officers, landladies and posh antagonists. Not every accent or cameo character is successful, but among those that work well are Backhouse’s strong takes on a sympathetic newspaper editor and a university friend.
One of Hunger’s powerful core messages is society’s vilification of aspiration or pride in those they believe should be humble. Otherwise, this adaptation isn’t ambitious with its source material. Every female character is a two-dimensional fantasy or a scold. Odoom’s character ultimately rejects the values of the society that shunned him, which in Hamsun’s time included piety and a Christian God.
No real attempt is made to grapple with the value system of contemporary society and the ways it has contributed to a hunger and homelessness crisis. This is a proficient but not particularly resourceful reckoning.