Written and performed by boy-wonder Harry Melling, his debut play, peddling is so perfectly balanced, cleverly staged and unnoticeably acted that it’s difficult not to just nip this in the bud now by saying ‘get off your bum and buy tickets immediately’. But that would be a lazy injustice to what is clearly a carefully nurtured piece of theatre. Peddling’s previous lives have been at the new writing mecca that is the High Tide Festival, from which it was transferred to Brits Off Broadway in New York. Now it is back home, set and performed in the gritty and grey backstreets and back-lives of London. It all fits and belongs, then takes the opportunity to nut you between the eyes with what we are ignoring on our own streets.

Melling plays one of the 6,000 anonymous that sleep rough on the streets every night. His identity is Boy, that’s his name, that’s the culmination of his 19-year childhood, that’s all he is, all he’s been and all he can hope for at that moment in time. Along with 5,999 others he is completely alone. He is directionless and fending for himself in a city that barely notices the face across from them at dinner let alone the face that comes to their door on ‘Boris Johnson’s Young Offenders Scheme’ selling toilet paper and essentials from a plastic crate. Boy has a saddeningly small knowledge of himself as he overspills with ignored intelligence and an overwhelming desperation for some light to be shed. He needs a way out, someone to tell him who he is or what he should do or just that he is a somebody, that he has an indisputable worth.

Melling’s writing gives a context to the anonymous, intensifying Boy with a richly violent and yet unspecified history with the social services. Boldly, peddling is written in verse – rhyming verse at that – bringing to the forefront the age-old debate of verse versus normality. It should detract from the brutal and earthy humanity that we’re witnessing, but it doesn’t. A whole narrative of accessible, modern day verse seems like such a paradox that I can barely believe that it works so bloody well. In fact it outdoes itself, racing away with the dialogue as Boy pushes and peddles breathlessly trying to find some kind of future, some kind of recognition of his existence.

It’s a wonder that any other element of the production could keep up, but the combination of Lily Arnold’s design and Steven Atkinson’s direction polishes the narrative up a treat. Boy is caged in a diminutive gauze cube at the centre of which is the base of a telegraph pole. He paces and circulates it, manic with the need to escape and showing us, quite ferociously, the improbability of that. It’s inhumane in both its inherent claustrophobia and the separation: we can’t get to him, he can’t get to us; our view of him is deliberately warped as it is socially. It also makes the transition from dark to light even more hard-hitting at the climax of the play. The pole is just as cleverly used: to climb, bring light, create other characters, you name it. It’s unusually hard to separate the direction and staging from the narrative and performance with peddling because it all just belongs together.

Speaking of which, I am left thinking that peddling lives and dies with Harry Melling. It’s his baby and I can’t see it cast otherwise. This production genuinely had my hairs standing to attention from the moment Melling made his animalistic entrance to the understated and tear-coaxing end. Even though I did the classic and cringe-worthy tear dribble throughout the curtain call, peddling is actually too natural, too close to home and too common to be sad. It’s a minorly victorious testament to peddling’s power that I got distracted on the way to the Overground station by buying a shedload of Big Macs and distributing them to homeless that I’d walked past and ignored only an hour before. I know how small that is on my part but it’s a mighty old message from peddling.

Peddling is playing at Arcola Theatre until 28 March. For more information and tickets, see the Arcola Theatre website