Writer and Director: Panayiota Panteli
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Issue-based plays are the trickiest to get right but we need them now more than ever. While most writers are looking at the bigger picture – Brexit, cultural representation and gender politics – Panayiota Panteli’s new 60-minute play Back to Hackney is a reminder that at the micro level the big decisions play out and fundamentally shape the lives of ordinary people.
A freak accident after a boozy night out leaves single mum Georgia paralysed from the waist down and using a wheelchair. Getting used to her new circumstances is troubling enough but as friends slowly disappear long-held family resentments also bubble to the surface. But when the local Council insist Georgia move to a care home rather than renovate her house, her daughters Alexandra and Sophia start a campaign to help their mum get back to Hackney.
Panteli’s play is part of a Theatro Technis initiative to foster new female writers and its clear from the play’s content that she is a keen to give voice to those unjustly affected by current social care models and the drastic funding cuts that have significant and often brutal consequences for individual families. And her writing has a real clarity in which the audience is left in little doubt about the rights and wrongs of remote policy-making.
However, the very nature of issue plays requires a trade-off between character development and factual dissemination so Back to Hackney falls back on heavily expositional dialogue alerting the audience to the size of the problem. Characters become symbolic of the suffering rather than fully rounded and complex people, which in turn compresses the narrative into a simplistic framework in which Georgia is injured, protests about her housing situation and discovers the result with an insufficient explanation.
There are too many characters for such a short show which leaves little room for their effect on Georgia’s story to fully develop. Panteli pulls her central character in too many directions, battling with her daughters while enjoying edifying chats with Lucy Christie’s friendly nurse Carla and Panos Savvides Greek-dancing cleaner Vasilis – both very good performances that deserve expansion in a later draft.
Kathryn Perkins’ angry Sophia accelerates from reluctant carer to her mother’s champion while too easily resolving long-buried resentments about an absent father. Perkins does well but it’s too large a trajectory for the allotted stage time. Equally, Anna Antoniades’ Alexandra has a brief fight with her sister but is quickly relegated to projected sequences before the audience find out who she is. Teresa Zaylor’s accepting Georgia gives these other characters someone to orbit around, and despite a bit of backstory, the difficulty of adapting to her paralysis and the exact nature of her protest is never fully covered.
Panteli cuts across a fairly traditional structure with an interesting use of video, introducing vlog posts and calls from daughter Alexandra, as well as a short montage from a local protest on the streets of Hackney and more of this would be welcome. Back to Hackney is clearly a passion project but fewer characters and more detail on Georgia’s immediate struggle to win back her home would reinforce Panteli’s message and draw attention to a little-known and very human consequence of the financial crisis.
Runs until: 1 June 2019 | Image: Contributed