Seesome Theatre’s new production Parasites is presented as an issue play, getting to the heart of problems with the welfare state, domestic abuse and teenager stuck in an unforgiving system. While James Harker’s script, directed by James Beagon, certainly attempts to deal with these all-too-big societal foibles, the ultimate effect is less a moving, inspirational hour but rather a play which lurches between the preachy and an episode of Eastenders.

For those looking for a teary kitchen sink drama you could do worse.

The story is centred around the teenage delinquent Alicia, played by Mollie DeMar, who after being expelled from school at 15, having dealt with vaguely enumerated anger issues and levels of abuse from her mother, turns to crime, spends a spell in prison, falls pregnant with the child of a “junkie” and ultimately ends up back at her own school pleading for a job. The premise is compelling enough: one scene from each year of her life for six years is played out to give us snapshots into her developing trauma, with Amy Adamson and Katie McDonald taking on multiple roles of the women who help and hinder her along the way.

Harker’s script borders on the unrealistic at times, with naturalistic moments from the genuinely tender DeMar at times marred by clunky dialogue. Characters are constantly running in late to scenes in this play and for some reason feel the need to comment on this fact in wordy, expositional lines. My other frustration with the script was with how little of Alicia’s backstory we are given: yes, she is meant to be an “everywoman” in the context of the play – representing thousands of young women in this country – but some more specific details about her past and what had led her this far would have made the character more believable.

Adamson plays a succession of authority figures – a teacher, a lawyer, a job centre staff member – without much differentiation. This may be an acting decision to demonstrate that all the people who represent “the state” are interchangeable for Alicia, but the effect for me was simply to forget that Adamson was meant to be playing multiple characters. McDonald, meanwhile, shows more versatility in her characters, but is again hampered by repetitive, unconvincing dialogue.

In terms of staging, I wish there had been fewer and less dramatic scene changes, and while all the actors were wonderfully slick in moving tables around and dressing themselves and each other in new costumes from two racks at the back of the stage, I couldn’t help but wonder whether it really added anything, on the sparse stage, that a table had been moved three feet to the right or left as we move from an office to a living room.

Ultimately, I left the theatre relatively entertained but wondering what the point of the play was. Far from making a real impact, the lazy dialogue and (at times) hammy acting meant that the show felt too unrealistic to be taken seriously. For those looking for a teary kitchen sink drama, however, you could do worse.

Reviews by Elliot Douglas

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The Blurb

Expelled from school aged 15, Alicia battles for her right to exist. Charities and the welfare state view her as the one thing everybody hates: a parasite. But who are the real bloodsuckers? A provocative coming-of-age dramedy from award-winning playwright James Harker (***** (Skinny), for Gary: a Love Story) and award-winning director James Beagon (****½ (Manchester Theatre Awards), for Antigone na h’Éireann). Parasites explores the complicated relationship between the state and the individual in today’s society. What is the price of dignity? How do systems define us? And can Alicia ever truly take control of her own life?

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