Any suspension of disbelief slips; not because it’s unreal, but because you can’t believe how bitingly good it is
Middle Child Theatre are based in Hull. Their website says they’ll “never play it safe”. Did they play it safe in Ten Storey Love Song? God no. It’s an adaptation of the novel by Richard Milward, described by Irvine Welsh as a “major talent” and a clear sibling to the likes of Trainspotting. But Love Song’s prose hits you even harder than Welsh’s, helped by the pulsing dramatisation of Soho Six writer Luke Barnes. He’s pulled, mined, and torn up the source novel, thrusting it onstage with the ample aid of Paul Smith, Middle Child’s artistic director.
A tower block in Middlesbrough. Three stories of five people. Meet Bobby, Johnnie, Georgie, Ellen and Alan Blunt “the C*nt”. Bobby’s an artist. Soon to be the patronee of a pretentious London curator, though sweetheart George doesn’t like his drug-taking or, more precisely, his gulping down of every Winnie-the-Pooh-emblazoned pill he can find. There’s Johnnie, a hard man wielding a penchant for porn-style sex done on, rather than with, his girlfriend Ellen; though she knows she better leave before he blows up. Finally, there’s “the C*nt”, a racist pedophile who loiters by the schoolyard. But even he’s not the simple devil you want him to be.
Five wretched people who deserve better. Will they get better, though? They may not, but make no mistake: this play’s got humanism right down to its DNA. Laughs are a certainty when Luke Barnes’ script is so bloody punchy, but still finds a way to lead on to the most bitter, sympathetic conclusion to a character you’ll see this festival. It’s one of those moments when any suspension of disbelief slips; not because it’s unreal, but because you can’t believe how bitingly good it is.
The actors sit in on the Jack Dome’s teensy stage. There’s a DJ booth behind them manned by James Orvis and Anna Wilson: together they whip up a trippy techno storm that slots, razor-sharp, into the play’s atmosphere. Notice, too, the projections by Euan Baker: all ketamine-induced fury and psychedelic confectionery with a real mastery of the craft.
Ten Story Love Song is a play for the working class. It’s also a play for women. It’s like they’ve taken all the buzzwords they can find — Brexit, feminism, strivers and skivers — and distilled the anger behind them into a shot of pure theatrical adrenaline. Don’t be surprised if you feel like a changed person afterwards.