A corrugated iron shack. A wheelie bin. Five cast members dressed in dishevelled clothes and sporting maniacal grins. This is what the audience are faced with two minutes into From the Cradle to the Bin. That is until one of them pulls out an accordion and they all start singing. From the sounds of it, none have had any singing lessons or can even claim to be in tune. However, they do then placate the audience by handing out chocolate and creating an uncomfortable atmosphere. I was hoping that feeling that came upon me would dissipate throughout the show – my wishes were unfortunately not granted.
The play itself looks at Mr Whitey (Charles Shetcliffe), an old man in his final days staying at the Happy Valleys care home. He is looked after by his own personal care assistant, Raoul (Mark Winstanley), and visited often by the director of the care home (Ling Tang), his loving daughter (Thomas Toppler) and grandson (Duncan Cameron). However, this is no ordinary care home – Happy Valleys represents a prime example of a broken social care system, so Mr Whitey’s stay here is anything but comfortable.
The style of the play here reminded me of TV shows like The Mighty Boosh. The actors use over the top physical comedy to playfully highlight what is considered a serious issue in today’s society and a hot topic at the moment in the press — the pressure put on social healthcare. Now whilst the style of the play was something similar to bouffon, the execution here was not as tight as it could have been. If the intention of the actors was to provoke and push the limits of acceptable theatre, I couldn’t help but feel that here they went too far without driving the message home. There were a couple of times that were on the verge of addressing an important issue, in particular Mr Whitey’s monologues nearer the end of the play. Shetcliffe well portrayed an older, typically British man, not wishing to complain about anything despite conditions being far from perfect; his observational parody of the song ‘My Favourite Things’ was witty, observant and one of the few welcome comedic moments.
The other character worthy of note was Bobby, Mr Whitey’s grandson with ADHD. Cameron here portrayed the nuances of this character well – great pace in his delivery, easily distracted and a number of facial tics that brought the character to life, straddling that fine line between funny and insulting. The same could not be said of the other characters – whilst Raoul (Winstanley) had some well-written lines that were the right side of shocking (“Did you have nice dreams? Of course not, you have Alzheimers!” was one of my favourites) the rest of the characters were overacted and so came across as underwhelming. The worst parts occurred when the characters seemingly transformed into their alter egos to break the fourth wall and address the audience. I found no theatrical or creative point in this whatsoever; it mainly felt self-indulgent and awkward.
I enjoyed this play more than I thought I would – looking at a promotional video on the website made it seem completely ridiculous and amateurish. Ridiculous it was, amateurish in the most part it also was. But there were moments of good comedy and some food for thought about the status of the current social care system. Unfortunately, as with a number of fringe productions, the play seemed so set on being different and standing out that it sometimes missed the point entirely.
From the Cradle to the Bin played at Canada Water Culture Space and is on tour until 13 June. For more information and tickets, see the Ship of Fools website.