“Homeless, hungry and horny”, is a quote which demonstrates the duality of this rough and ready play; Starved jumps from comedy to tragedy with great ambition and execution, embracing the logistical reality of this fringe venue without sacrificing any of the storytelling.
Starved tells the story of Lad and Lass who are squatting together in a rundown estate in Hull. It tracks the peaks and troughs of their relationship, as they scavenge for a solid meal to take the edge off their spiralling drinking habit, and observes their despair at a life filled with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. The whole piece reminds me of a Shane Meadows drama, with equal parts dark humour and hard-hitting truths. The raw grit of the script is brought to life by Michael Black and Alana Connaughton, with Black also being the play’s writer. The pair perform with the most magical familiarity which allows them to bring a compelling energy to a script that is at risk of falling flat due to its naturalistic form. Their control over the script’s very fast-paced tempo changes is extremely impressive and their acute responses to one another is what makes the play entertaining throughout.
The only problem with such heavily naturalistic scripts is that they can occasionally feel a little selfish when staged – the dialogue can turn inward instead of playing to the audience and some moments can feel somewhat overindulged. Starved attempts to include the addition of some more abstract concepts to counteract this: pulsating strip lighting along the floorboards and a movement piece to end the play. But without this change in style being interwoven throughout the whole piece, it comes across as an afterthought. I do think the play needs to divert from its naturalistic course at points, but with only two such moments, it is hard for those elements to marry with the piece as a whole when they occur just at the beginning and end. The instinct to do so is clear, but a follow-through from the director Matt Strachan is needed to bring the two styles together.
Ironically, Esteniah Williams‘ set design manages to combine the naturalistic and abstract rather stylishly, with a spider web tent on the outside separating the audience from the actors and an inside which stays completely true to the play’s setting: a ripped, muddied mattress and scattered beer cans strewn across a cracked, rotted floor. This perpetuates the claustrophobic atmosphere of constantly living in such close proximity with another human, allowing the actors to build the tension by rooting it to a true feeling of intensity. The audience peer through the gaps in the web into the world within, acting only as spectators to a life I think few can truly understand.
This semi-autobiographical play showcases an acting duo whose talent radiates through the grime and squalor of this play. Although occasionally stuck within the script’s format, at the heart of this piece is a story which entertains its audience by managing to dart to and fro, as it addresses everything from period poverty to the validity of a cup-a-soup as a nutritious meal. It makes us laugh with ease and eagerly follow these two characters as they navigate through their imploding universe.
Starved is playing the Hope Theatre until 3 August. For more information and tickets, see the Hope Theatre website.