Counting Stars by Atiha Sen Gupta

“Some people would kill to have what we have,” says Sophie, describing her job as a toilet attendant in a nightclub. This seems to sum her up. Ever the optimist, seeing the good in everyone and treating her clients like ‘stars’, it’s unclear why she is with persistent pessimist, Abiodun, who describes their job as ‘slavery’.

Atiha Sen Gupta’s writing is well-observed and at times, nuanced and beautiful.

To be fair, Abiodun has a point. They don’t earn minimum wage and work terrible hours in even worse conditions. Atiha Sen Gupta’s writing captures the dark side of employment in the UK, through six fleshed-out characters, all portrayed by Joe Shire and Bunmi Mojekwu.

The setting is cleverly evoked through lighting, muffled party music and the familiar array of perfumes, make-up and lollipops we all recognise from nightclub toilets. However, the storytelling feels awkward at times. Shire and Mojekwu switch between characters well, but the dynamic between the characters of Sophie and Abiodun is a bit strange. Sometimes they take it in turns to tell their story, unaware of the other’s presence; sometimes they butt in on each other to correct facts in that cringeworthy way that couples do. The fact that I’m never sure whether they are supposed to be telling their story together or separately makes their relationship harder to get a grasp on than other relationships in the story. For example, the relationship between Sophie and Samantha is warm and much more realistically portrayed, despite the fact that Mojekwu plays both parts herself.

As the play reaches its climax, the moments when the experiences of Sophie and Abiodun are juxtaposed are the most poignant. But when they come together for the finale, the emotional pay-off isn’t successful enough. Sophie chats to Abiodun about nail varnish, remaining unrealistically calm, which shattered the illusion for me.

Counting Stars has an impressive script: Atiha Sen Gupta’s writing is well-observed and at times, nuanced and beautiful. It asks interesting political questions about race and working conditions, with characters that are real, funny and accessible. However, it lacks energy in parts due to static staging and the ending was a bit too much for me. 

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The Blurb

Delving into the deep underworld of Britain's nightclubs, Counting Stars examines the degrading working conditions of some of Britain's most exploited people through the prism of the doomed love story of Abiodun and Sophie. 'One leaves the theatre impatient to discover what Atiha Sen Gupta will do next' (Charles Spencer, Telegraph on What Fatima Did). 'A writer with a future' (Michael Billington, Guardian).