DramaNorth WestReview

Wish List – The Royal Exchange, Manchester

Writer: Katherine Soper

Director: Matthew Xia

 

Reviewer: Dave Cunningham

If, as they say, courage is grace under pressure then Tamsin Carmody (Erin Doherty) must qualify as a heroine if not a saint. The early death of her mother not only messed up Tamsin’s educational opportunities it drove her brother Dean (Joseph Quinn), into Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which is now so extreme that he is unable to leave the house. Dean’s inability to question authority has resulted in him being categorised as fit for work and the cessation of his benefits means that Tamsin is forced to accept a zero hours job where the only respite is a surprisingly sympathetic co-worker Luke Mburu (Shaquille Ali-Yebuah).

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder traps sufferers in cycles of repetitive rituals and so serves as a metaphor for the lives of the characters in Katherine Soper’s evocative new play Wish List. You can sense events closing in around Tamsin as she struggles to balance all the demands made upon her and staggers from one thing to another. Hers is a life that seems over before it has even begun – a dead end job that Luke Mburu is using as a stopgap before college looks like being a permanent choice for her. Soper illustrates the brutal mundane horror of being stuck in a job that limits freedom to the extent that communication with the world outside the factory becomes impossible.

Erin Doherty’s superb performance reflects the desperation felt by Tamsin. There is the sense of someone knackered beyond belief and just wishing that her situation could end – for good or bad as long as it is over. This is very much a life lived in quiet desperation. Doherty is so moving in the role that a potentially mawkish sequence, in which Tamsin sings along to a power ballad, draws spontaneous applause.

It is not always easy to sympathise with people who suffer from mental illness, as the symptoms are so subjective they can appear trivial. Joseph Quinn’s anguished performance is so detailed in its observation with meticulously reproduced tics and tapping that this problem is avoided. You simply have to take the condition seriously as it is causing such obvious pain.

Shaquille Ali-Yebuah has mainly worked in television and film until now which may account for his voice not always being audible. He does, however, catch the gauche approach of someone who can cause offence simply by speaking of the options that he has which are not available to someone in Tamsin’s position.

The set, by Ana Inés Jabares-Pita, is not so much adaptable as fully functional- boxes fly down conveyor belts at alarming speed. This frees director Matthew Xia to bring an edge of delirium that illustrates the nightmarish circumstances of the Carmody siblings. This is a world where a letter from the Job Centre plummets to the ground as if delivering a sentence from The Gods. The rapid pace set by Xia drags the audience into the confused mind of Tamsin where her personal and work lives seem to merge together.

Wish List is a play that demands to be seen and boasts an aching final scene.

 

Runs until 15th October 2016 | Image: Jonathan Keenan

 

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