DramaReviewSouth West

Champ – Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol

Writer: Samuel Bailey
Director: Jesse Jones
Reviewer: Kris Hallett

Danny is late for his JobCentre appointment, rattling off a list of excuses ‘rat-a-tat-a-tat’ as to why he wasn’t there to sign himself on. He is loud, mouthy and prone to politically incorrect impersonations, but soon reveals there is something more delicate underneath.

tell-us-block_editedHe helps a vulnerable neighbour with her weekly food shop. He carries Roald Dahl’s Danny Champion Of The World, a remnant that he believes his absent Dad left him as a reminder that one day they will be reunited. His relationship with his advisor at the JobCentre begins frostily but soon warms up. She feels as much an outsider from society as he does. She is Somalian, in a job below her qualification level, wanting to help people in a system that seems destined to punish them for any minor infringement. The two soon are connected by human empathy, both providing support mechanisms

Coming so soon after Ken Loach’s devastating critique of the failures of the benefits system in I, Daniel Blake Samuel Bailey’s piece is inevitably going to draw some comparisons to this work, and if it doesn’t stray close to the same heights, there are plenty of hints of promise within. Bailey writes with real insight the character of Danny, who, underneath the protective layers of backchat and studied insolence, has the potential to be his own champ. Josh Finnan has the part down pat, combining boyish charm with a wounded sense of pride that means we can identify immediately with the human story behind the statistic.

Bailey also has an ear for dialogue, it zings with energy and pulse, especially when delivered by Finnan and has an authentic twang of real conversation. However, it is in his handling of the second character, Alma, Eno’s JobCentre contact that the weaknesses in the piece come through. She doesn’t always feel an authentic character, more a collection of writer’s thoughts and character flash points than someone who truly feels flesh and blood. In a large cast production, it can be easier to cloak this; when it’s a two-hander, it clangs awkwardly.

Director Jesse Jones makes it a customarily intelligent production, early on Eno’s character talks through a mic; an automated, mechanical voice that lacks human warmth before she begins to find a real connection with him. In breaks between scenes, we hear excerpts of Roald Dahl’s text delivered in warm Home Country tones by Peter Serafinowicz. Dahl made heroes of the working underclass, now they’re persecuted.

Anna Orton’s design places it in an interrogation-lite room with cold strip lighting that sucks all life out of any space. It’s a reminder that it’s a tough world out there, but Bailey’s hour-long play shows that with just a touch of human kindness anything might still be possible.

Runs until 19 November 2016 | Image: Contributed

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