By Susanna Mulvihill
When the Fringe was established it was in protest at the invite-only policy of the International Festival. Small dramatic companies and groups proved that good theatre can be made without the backing of the establishment. Fast-forward 65 years and the Fringe has become dominated by a ‘Big ” commercial machine who leave little room for the very fringe theatre companies for whom the festival was founded. So when in the afternoon on at the top of the mile you walk into a small grass-roots show with a beautifully written script, that is wonderfully acted and has a poignant message it reaffirms your faith in the spirit of the Fringe.
Boxes of varying shapes and sizes comprise the set which are moved around by the cast in between scenes. Decorated with small partial images from the popular culture of the last 25 years, like the incomplete snap shots of news we glean only from headlines in the 21st Century, they are each painted over with a wash of colour; some red, some green and some blue. The house lights stay on low throughout the entire performance allowing Scott (Marc Graham), Jack (Mungo Arney), and Tim (Matthew May) to deliver monologues while looking each member of the audience in the eye, demanding the playgoers make a real connection with the characters. The play is set in Hull and tells the story of a group of 20-somethings struggling to make a living in a contemporary recession-hit UK. Challenging the perception that this generation are lazy and spoilt we are presented with believable, real characters superbly acted by this ensemble cast. Accompanying Graham, Arney and May are Emma Bright as Sarah, a naïve idealist who writes monthly to the leaders of the major UK political parties detailing what they do wrong, and James Stayner and Elisa Nader as party-loving couple Chris and Ruth who have a grim reality thrust upon them. Through the characters of Jack (an internet troll) and Tim (an agoraphobic who seeks an outlet through blogging) we are presented with a philosophical debate on the anonymity, ethics and dangers of our dependence on the internet: as Jack says at one point we now live in a world where “instant connection replaces actual interaction and no one knows it”. The main focus of the play however is Scott, a young father who is working two jobs just to stay solvent. Through his monologues we are given a real insight into his psyche and special mention must be given to Marc Graham for giving possibly the best performance I have seen from any actor this year.
Middle Child Theatre are a new company based in Hull and if this devised play, scripted by Mungo Arney and directed by Paul Smith, is anything to go by they are a company worth paying attention to. They have produced an affecting piece of drama that entirely captures the zeitgeist of a generation. Every major politician in the UK should be forced to sit and watch this without their spin-doctors or focus-groups present, this is such an honest and genuine reflection of life for so many in our country right now. It is intelligent and thoughtful and a play that will stay with you long after you have seen it.