Appallingly funny and gloriously abysmal: Gutted at Stratford East.

I left Gutted feeling a little like my guts had been ripped out, put through a blender and shoved back inside alongside grit, dirt and grime. It’s like the concentrate of every nasty you’ve ever known. If this doesn’t sound particularly positive – well it’s because I can’t decide whether I love it or hate it. In truth, I love parts and hate parts – so I write this review in a dazed state with blurry vision. 

Ok, credit where credit’s due – the acting is amazing! There are no weak links in this production. Each part is perfectly cast and the chemistry between the actors is pretty damn hot. There’s a real buzz on stage and the actors bounce off one another with charisma and charm. One thing’s for sure; there’s no shortage of energy in this piece – especially from James Farrah who plays 1st division footballer, Matthew Prospect, and subsequently has to run on the spot for aaaaages. The pace is peppy and the scene changes are slick and snappy, which is an unsung saving grace considering the play as a whole is too long and confusingly edited.

Louise Jameson plays an endearing rough diamond, namely Bridie Prospect, the very ‘sarf-east Laandan’ (trans. South East London) mother of four. Her final moments on stage are beyond powerful. Despite being part of a very unlikely gathering (including a blood-splattered brother and a tranny), Jameson’s response is oddly believable – and completely engaging. And what a powerful voice this actress has! I could hear the regret, the hopelessness, the fury, the love, that maternal instinct, that destructive drive all in one go, in one hard-hitting punch. Jameson conveys a torrent of emotions with every word and gesture: quite a feat considering the material must have made it pretty tricky to connect emotionally – but Jameson did, and for that reason, she gets my vote.

The design is cool too: simple but cool. The line up of mirrors makes everything seem a lot bigger than it is, a lot busier too. It also somehow fragments and distorts the action; scenes are broken up and sent scattering across various fields of attention, a little like being in a dream… or nightmare. The design reflects the direction, which is a little haphazard and jumpy.

Now onto the play itself…

Well I have to confess that I found the first half hour pretty cringe-worthy  I’ll admit here and now to thinking:

‘Oh god, another council estate play about white teens who want to be black… oh and now they’re getting their c*cks out and masturbating directly in front of us… oh and now they’re saying “c*nt” a lot… great, just great, isn’t this new and different and bold and brave…’.

So before I enter a sarcasm rally, let me spell it out in plain English (by the way, you won’t hear a lot of this when you see the show). I’ve seen plenty of these “shock tactics” before – in fact, they’re so overused, they’re not shocking anymore. So teenage boys masturbate a lot? So what? Look, we’re not prudes – but please don’t try to purposefully unnerve us or impress us with such scenes. We’ve seen it before, put it away (excuse the pun – I promise there aren’t actual penises).

In fairness, I guess some of these aspects are used to convey a sense of culture. I’ve lived in sarf-east Laandan – you do see those characters (not masturbating hopefully), and you definitely hear them (I’m referring to the swearing), so perhaps I’m being unfair. But all in all, the only thing the first chunk inspired was several sighs.

Saying that, it picks up a hell of a lot after the first half hour – and suddenly I’m gripped and back on side. Rikki Beadle-Blair’s writing is definitely engaging and it’s on the button as far as natural dialogue is concerned. It’s appallingly funny and gloriously abysmal all at the same time. One of those plays where you laugh one minute, and berate yourself for doing so the next. The dialogue is powerful, as are the dramatic interchanges. It reels you in and then spits you out. It’s a bit like being on a roller-coaster – cheering for joy on the way up, and trying not to wretch on the way down.

As for the material; it takes a sinister subject and shafts it. The play covers, abuse, violence & drug-taking, but it almost makes a mockery of it. God forbid someone who had been through these horrors watches Gutted. I’d think they’d be in their right to walk out. I enjoy a bit of dark humour. In fact, I’ve got quite a lot of darkness in me and I like to unleash it from time to time, but I’m not sure where this play is going, what it’s saying, or why it’s saying it. I think a writer has to display a certain sensitivity when dealing with such hard-hitting issues. You can’t just bring up child rape and laugh about it. Well, you can if you have no sense of social responsibility. Also, the play doesn’t have enough substance to warrant touching such subjects – it was just ‘I was raped, so I’m raping him’, ‘I was beaten, so I’m beating her’. Yes, we get it embodies the notion: ‘the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children’, and we understand it’s about the abuse cycle… but this needs more care, attention and depth if it’s to work as a well rounded piece.

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