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Hunger – Arcola Theatre, London

Writer: Amanda Lomas

Director: Fay Lomas

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

It’s intense watching Kwami Odoom as a young writer drifting mentally and physically into a broken state as his money, food and sanity run out. His performance, surrounded by a quick and versatile cast is wrapped in a soundscape that’s too loud, a set that’s too bare. It’s a full-on experience – an interesting way to bring hunger, need, cold and instability to be felt physically in an audience of well-fed Londoners.

The piece is based on a book by the controversial Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun – an explanatory note on the programme raises an interesting debate about separating the writing from the author. This book, Hunger, was a key work in introducing psychology to literature – examining an internal life, a shared human voice rather than relying on plot and action to tell stories. Like the book, very little happens here. A starving student writer is pushed further into poverty, we follow his twists and turns and examine how the world reacts and treats him as he gets more and more disturbed by the hunger he suffers.

There’s moments of genuine frustration. Throughout there are crumbs of options for him – advice on writing to have an article accepted, a suggestion to return tomorrow to a soup kitchen for food, breakfast tokens etc. He chooses a path of pride at times, then turns in shame. It’s wretched watching and wondering why doesn’t he do what would clearly help him. Odoom is terrific as the student – too jovial at first and too cocky with his situation, then in a rage at God for visiting this finely calibrated cruelty upon him. Accompanying him are Archie Backhouse, Katie Eldred, and Jessica Tomlinson in a variety of roles – that sometimes are hard to differentiate and track, apart from the ones with questionable Irish accents.

The atmosphere created by Anna Kezia Williams design, Rajiv Pattani’s lighting and Lex Kosanke’s sound is engrossing. Frenetic and disorientating at times, it matches the pace and aggression of Fay Lomas’ direction beautifully. The whole work is highly impactful, skillfully executed and intriguing – it’s difficult, it’s supposed to be.

Runs until 21 December 2019 | Image: Alex Brenner

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The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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