Director: John Wright
Devised by: Coal
Reviewer: Cathy Crabb
Hidden within the cracks- Maureen (Erika Poole) and Elaine (Annie Fitzmaurice) live a pinched purse to mouth existence being tended to by their neighbour Pat (Sam Parks) – an elderly muggins who mothers them. Elaine has a bear-led quality to her, being bullied by Maureen into her disability scam. Elaine pushes Maureen around as Maureen despicably pretends she is vulnerable and speech impaired while they are actually on the rob. Elaine sometimes translates what Maureen says and sometimes misinterprets on purpose to be able to indirectly speak her mind. Into the bargain comes Emad (Amr El-Bayoumi), an Egyptian man heightened by some fear and experience we cannot comprehend in his language. Emad finds a skewed sanctuary with them and they begin to coexist for a time together, with barriers of bigotry, language and basic understanding of one another setting them off on a carousel of angst which makes up the bulk of their story.
Intermittently among these scenes, we are smoothed over by the custard covered pep talk of Peter James (Sam Parks) from the Beige Party- smug and self-assured he addresses his canvassers and says nothing about how they will not be doing anything.
There are so many excellent ideas and scenes in the production- Elaine being undermined and chastised by her footwear- the deft characterisation of Pat by Sam Parks and Maureen’s absolute detestable vitriol and fury surges so that you are almost sat with gritted teeth. Emad introduces parts of his culture but this becomes too painful for him, the exchanging of gifts between him and Elaine a touching gesture when they have been for the most part self-preserving and guarded. There is a pest control scene featuring masks that is hilarious and well observed.
As a picture without bias- only slightly bearing the trimmings of meta-realism but teetering enough into a coherent and valid life and characters we could imagine it to be real; they all fester on the stage. The characters in the cracked flat seething, anxious or frustrated canvassed over by the benign views of a wet lettuce political party trying to keep it together under immense stress.
It isn’t so much that these two elements juxtaposed celebrate difference – they present variants in communication and levels of living/struggling that exist- painted over in beige, unaddressed or hidden they still exist and are interesting to watch played out. Even Peter James may eventually break under the strain- having to be nice all the time could prove bad for his health.
Well directed by John Wright and devised by the company, Coal has yet again produced a surprising and daring piece of work.