views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Dirty Special Thing
The Platform Theatre, Central Saint Martins
4th June 2015


The ensemble

Photography © Patrick Baldwin

If you're a typical Londoner, you'll constantly be in a rush (we all know we shouldn't trust TfL's estimated journey times, but hey the extra 5 minutes in bed is worth it). Yet if you stop to look around, you'll realise just how interesting this city is. Dirty Special Thing (aka London) takes the audience on a journey around the capital and offers a glimpse into the lives and feelings of its varied inhabitants.

The first Londoner we meet is trainee cab driver Joseph (Helder Fernandes). While he studies for the Knowledge, he talks about the city and the nuggets of information he's picked up along the way. He acts as a narrator and cleverly ties the initially disparate stories of Londoners together. As we travel through, we meet a whole range of people, from the wealthy but sleep deprived City boy (Sebastian Carrington-Howell) to the kind job centre adviser (Gabrielle Wynter) - yes, it's definitely fictional - and the immigrant street cleaner (Nestor Sayo). As you'd expect, there are a lot of London jokes (never travel on the Piccadilly line at rush hour) that might not be as funny for someone who's just visiting, still there are also several laugh-out-loud moments that will tickle everyone.

The piece succeeds in mixing fantastical comedy elements with darker moments, such as a lonely Big Issue seller (Moneer Elmasseek) discussing all the awful things people have done to him, but deciding that maltreatment is preferable to being blanked. Heartbreaking and it certainly makes you think. This homeless man has a penchant for quoting literature and seems to be fairly well educated, highlighting how homelessness can happen to anyone - never more potent than now, with London rents so out of control. The play also delves into political commentary, although the only real party mentioned is Ukip, and highlights the way in which our politicians simply don't understand the realities of our lives. Particularly enjoyable is the message about the importance of the NHS - take note David Cameron.

As the play progresses, the characters' lives become increasingly connected, leading up to a fairly dramatic climax. In an interesting touch from director Ali Godfrey, cab driver Joseph physically joins everyone together by creating a map of London on the floor with fluorescent tape, admittedly more decorative than accurate. This clever use of props is matched by use of movement, with characters' dance mapping out different places and scenes in London.

Despite some of the tough times depicted, the overall message is one of hope, which ties in nicely with the theatre company's history and aim. Future Stage Company is part of Generation Arts, which offers drama training and advice to disadvantaged young people. The actors had been training with the programme for one year, and this production marks the end of their course and the start of new beginnings. Given much of the cast's relative inexperience, I hadn't expected to be that impressed, but I was. It is hard to name just a few people, but Shaquille Johnson-Pascale certainly stood out as the unruly young care leaver for his wonderful comic timing and expressions - a young Will Smith in the making perhaps? Nestor Sayo also delivered some great comedy when discussing his eternally pregnant wife and job-hunting woes, and Helder Fernandes did a good job of holding everything together. Unfortunately, two singing scenes weren't particularly strong. In the first the piano seemed to drown out Gabrielle Wynter's voice and in the ensemble song the timing and tune wavered. This certainly didn't detract from an otherwise very good performance.

As well as Generation Arts being a great cause to support, this impressive play is absolutely worth seeing on its own merits. Plus, lasting only 75 minutes, it's a pretty quick tour of London. (Did I mention that Londoners are always rushing?)

Dirty Special Thing ran from 3rd to 6th June 2015 at the Platform Theatre, Central Saint Martins.

Nearest tube station: King's Cross St. Pancras (Victoria, Piccadilly, Northern, Circle, Metropolitan, Hammersmith)

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