Theatre has, since its early days, been a reflection on society: a comment on the past, present and future. It’s highly influenced by broader elements of culture, and a play will have different interpretations and responses depending on the country of its staging. As much as it is pleasant and entertaining to have a night out in theatre-land, theatre-makers – and especially playwrights – have a responsibility to make their work relevant to the audience and the world they live in. Light-hearted, quirky laughs are important, but the arts must also play a part in society’s struggle. Chris Dunkley acknowledges this duty as a playwright in the UK and has tackled an important event — the 2011 riots.
The Precariat comments on the events between 2011 and 2012 following the shooting by police of Mark Duggan, a Londoner. The response was fatal — fires spread across London and other parts of the UK, as people sat in front of their TVs and watched lootings and attacks taking place in their own areas. The Precariat is a compelling and thrilling depiction of a Tottenham family living on the edge of society. Fin’s a bright boy with the talent to go far — but he is held back by his depressed, unemployed mother, an absent father and a younger brother who’s finding himself involved in drugs and violence beyond his control. Fin knows his future will be unstable and that there is no hope for him escaping his background. He is of the emerging major class, living with lack of job security, unstable income and humiliation — the precariat.
Scott Chambers shows incredible vulnerability as young Fin. He leads us through the fall of his family and future with innocence and heart, and is supported beautifully by Kirsty Besterman as both his mother and the girl at the fried chicken drive-through to whom he opens his heart. The cast is phenomenal and, as the Finborough is such a small theatre, it feels tantalisingly intimate to the point where it actually hurts to watch.
Director Chris New honours Chris Dunkley’s writing with very simple staging, which allows the actors to live and breathe in the space. Dunkley has conceived an important piece of theatre that comments on the injustice of our society and how generations’ mistakes affect the young, breeding a new, dangerous class that have to fight for survival. It’s raw and ugly, and at moments it does feel long and depressing. But that’s the reality of the characters that Dunkley has created: as unpleasant and dark as it gets, it’s a brilliant insight into the lives of those involved in the riots and is something Brits should experience.
The Precariat is playing at the Finborough Theatre until 30 July. For more information and tickets, see the Finborough Theatre website.
Photo by Sam Goodchild.