Sitting on a bench, somewhere in a corner of town, two young siblings are 'laughing, dreaming and talking sh*t' about their bright plans for the future, like moving to another city and having a good job. The boy is only sixteen and his older sister is quite protective towards him. She is in love with a local guy and she can already see herself having a family with him. But, when the future hits and becomes present, things are completely different from what they had imagined. Unemployment leads quickly to desperation and the lack of opportunities nurtures a looming mental illness. The sister is now a single mother-of-two and her brother suffers from depression and panic attacks, which make him unfit for work. Government benefits are the only thing that keeps them afloat, but the social system is oblivious to their dramatic situation and fails to give the necessary support. In a crescendo of trips to the job centre and ignored cries for help, nothing is left – nothing worth living for.
Kicked in the Sh*tter follows last year's West End success of playwright Leon Fleming and director Scott Le Crass with Sid, and confirms the creatives' ability to depict the young generations with vivid and thought-provoking tones. On a note included in the programme, they both explain how this play contains many autobiographical elements, which they felt the need to share with the audience. 'This is not poverty porn,' writes Le Crass, who considers the derogatory comments on a person's socio-economic situation unacceptable and urges for a more open discussion about mental health.
In a recent interview, Fleming explained that, because of its broad topics, Kicked in the Sh*tter is a play that everyone can easily relate to and, after watching it, I felt its powerful message lingering in my mind for a long time. The style is raw and poignant and the writing doesn't leave space for rhetorical speech. The lines seem taken directly from our everyday dialogues and are delivered by the actors with a realistic mix of hanger and despair. The description of some feelings and mental states is striking, like depression, which the boy calls a 'massive black empty but solid, hard and spiky' thing.
Helen Budge and James Clay emotional performances as the siblings stand out against the concrete blocks scattered on stage. Justin Williams and Jonny Rust intentionally designed a bare set to draw all the attention to the script, rather than the production values. Adam Langston's musical score is also quite discreet, whilst Jai Morjaria lighting has a prominent role in outlining the changes of location and the continuous shifting between past and present.
Kicked in the Sh*tter is a play about our young selves dreaming big and suddenly called to face reality in our adult lives. As such, watching it is meant to hurt and, thanks to Leon Fleming straightforward writing and Scott Le Crass no-frills direction, it does hurt indeed.
Review by Marianna Meloni