Friday, June 06, 2008

Fast Labour by Steve Waters, Hampstead Theatre, 2-Jun-2008 – Directed by Ian Waters

A good thing about political correctness is the way that you avoid obvious stereotypes and lazy generalisations. A bad thing about politically correct plays is that the author expends so much energy avoiding obvious stereotypes and lazy generalisations, that the drama ebbs away, leaving something anaemic and without conflict. I'm probably being lazy and generalising here but I felt this play had far too many decent people in it. Of course there were illegal immigrants [insert standard and well rehearsed arguments about the black economy of economic migrants being essential for cheap food - here] and the gang masters that exploited them but none of the nightmare stories of people trafficking. The most villainous person, arguably the gang-master Grimmer, was far too concerned about his position in society to really do anything vile. He was certainly an exploiter and, in keeping migrant workers money, a thief but he also wanted to keep his people on side.
No doubt there’ll be plenty of research to back up the facts in the play but I wanted more jeopardy, to feel that there was more at stake. The story of an illegal immigrant, working their way up and starting a briefly successful business has echoes of powerful films like Scarface but it seems the author didn’t want to go there. True, it would have been over melodramatic especially in a piece that argued that at least in Britain there are fair rules to play by and it is possible to win the game.
I’ve gone on far too long trying to say that it was all a bit too agreeable. The play itself was well put together and I was impressed especially by the switching in languages (everything spoken in English but jumping between imagined languages through accent and context). It made me think about the way that completely coherent, intelligent people can sound and look like idiots when dealing with a language that is unfamiliar or different. It was interesting to notice (though not surprising) that the author avoided the comedy of miscomprehension that is often a safe comedic retreat.
I could have done with knowing a lot more about the demons that Victor (Craig Kelly) had encountered and more about his motivations. He wanted to be a good man and to give people work but I needed more than that. There was a fair bit of talk about how perestroika and the fall of communism have changed life in the former Soviet Union but I wasn’t convinced that it was coming from anywhere or was intended to reach any conclusion.

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