Wilton’s Music Hall is the perfect location for This Is Not Right. It’s bare, crumbling bricks, cast-iron pillars and faded paint combine to make a space more majestic than the sum of its parts. This is a picture that the script paints of Hull: a place of great former beauty and culture that has succumbed to the slow indiscriminate decay of time. Unemployment, teen pregnancy, flash floods and local police ignoring calls from residents; this is the world in which Holly Parker (Martha Godber) is forged, and longs to escape.
The show begins with a stage littered with props: a shopping trolley, clothes rail, chairs. A girl in a tracksuit (Sophie Bevan) plays a forlorn tune on the violin immediately invoking a retelling of Fiddler on the Roof for the modern working classes.
Like Tevye, characters address the audience, extending a hand into their innermost thoughts. Issues of national identity and tradition in Hull maintain a worldview that Holly comes to resist but her father (Jamie Smelt) relies upon. Props are used and discarded like dreams; small communities are content to exist as they always have, children never move away and their world remains impossibly small.
Both Godber and Smelt superbly convey the difficult dynamic between a single father and daughter. Holly is spirited, intelligent, and longs to experience more than her small life has to offer. The transition from child to adult is a tumultuous and emotional one that they play with equal humour and frustration.
Holly’s Father’s obsession with the Madeleine McCann case is a unique context through which to understand his frantic concern for her safety. Yet the idea is never fully developed as a consistent narrative thread, only briefly referenced at certain times. It is interesting to watch him subtly change from a concerned and pitiable father to a suffocating and possessive presence in her life.
At the encouragement of her teacher and protestations of her father, Holly is thrust from Hull into the urban wilderness of London. She embodies the dizzying freedom and piercing loneliness of student/graduate life. When she is faced with no alternative but to admit defeat and head home, there is an atmosphere of true sympathy.
A highlight of the show is a self-referential scene that takes place in Wilton’s Music Hall as Holly reluctantly takes her father on a tour of the capital. Being physically placed in the awkward scene, we really feel his desperation to pull her closer and her resentment for a man who represents everything she is trying to leave behind.
For all of the show’s heart there are notable issues. Some shows benefit from stripped back staging but unfortunately This Is Not Right does not. Throughout we linger in anticipation of a larger spectacle that is never delivered. The violin music needs the support of a more complex soundtrack to achieve greater emotional impact. The high ceilinged music hall and sparse stage often leaves the cast looking a bit lost.
The story ducks and weaves through several themes, not spending enough time on any of them; xenophobia, sexism, classism and the growing ideological rift between parents and their children. The script is adamant that it wants to make a political statement, it is just unsure of which one. Eventually, it stumbles almost by chance to the conclusion that it was about female safety the entire time.
This Is Not Right, much like Holly herself, keenly requires the space to decide exactly what it wants to be. It offers thought provoking, moving moments but promises much more than it is able to fully deliver.
This Is Not Right played at Wilton’s Music Hall until 5 October. For more information, visit Wilton’s Music Hall.