Rat King at The Hope Theatre, Islington, is a new production written and produced by Bram Davidovich for Kryptonite Theatre Company. Storytelling is at the heart of what they do, particularly by challenging preconceptions and bringing together issues that are often neglected or underestimated.
A gripping tale of pathos and soul-searching.
Family conflict, mental health, homelessness and love feature as the main strands in the play. It may not sound like the most fun combination, but the imaginative handling of these issues through the lives of two people makes for a gripping tale of pathos and soul-searching.
Kelly (Matilda Childs) is sixteen; a schoolgirl from a comfortable family background. The military background of her father gives him a disciplined, formal and practical approach to her upbringing. Her mother is more liberal and just wants what’s best for her daughter. Their conflicting approaches to her, combined with medicated mental health issues, prompt her to run away from home. She ends up in the wastelands of the Lea river valley where she encounters Jacko (Melker Nilsson), a homeless young man in fear of others who survives on dumpster diving but has found a disused crumbling building that he calls home. His father died when he was young. His mother remarried and Jacko found himself the victim of an abusive stepfather and so he left.
Childs opens the play with a bubbly introduction to Kelly’s life that exudes the confidence of a girl brought up in a middle class home. In a very different world Nilsson is first seen ranting against a wall on which Jacko is making a chalk sketch. When the two come together for the first time they create a deep air of hesitancy and mistrust. Their words are tentative, exploratory and finally questioning; and do they know how to effectively stretch a pause! They ultimately break down the barriers between them and find common ground. The air becomes lighter as the action turns to fun in looking at the stars and painting together.
Inevitably, it’s not all straightforward. Both actors carry-off the emotional and argumentative see-saw that Davidovich has created with passion and intensity, making their fears and vulnerability palpable as first one, then the other takes the upper hand. They also convey that beneath all the exchanges it is happiness, fulfillment and security that they really crave.
Will they find it? To know that is to know the ending and that will probably divide those who like things left hanging from those who like everything neatly sewn up. Either way, this team, under the incisive direction of Dan Phillips, has put together a powerful and rewarding piece of theatre.