Updated: Feb 26, 2020
Starved - A terrifyingly authentic representation of poverty and co-dependency destroying lives.
Starved, written by Michael Black, starring Black himself as 'Lad' and Alana Connaughton as his co-star 'Lass', takes the audience on a gritty emotional rollercoaster through a day in the life of an impoverished couple on the run and provides an excruciating insight into toxic co-dependency.
As you walk into the room you can immediately feel the tension of the piece. The space is dingy and claustrophobic. Nicola Chang provides a dull, ominous underscore that plays throughout, adding to the anxiety. The set is encased in a web, in a clever design by Esteniah Williams these people are trapped and bound together in their unfortunate circumstance. There is a tattered mattress on the floor, a chair in the opposite corner and a liberal smattering of evidence that the couple are down on their luck, and would rather place their faith in alcohol and roll-up cigarettes than food to get them through the day.
Black and Connaughton have a natural chemistry, allowing for the dialogue to feel genuine, which is important as the conversations throughout feel incredibly schizophrenic. The pair have the ability to expertly portray the playfulness of a relationship between people that are truly in love, as well as the loathing and resentment that their circumstance is making them feel towards each other; and they deftly switch the tone of the piece between the two. One stand out example of this is when Lad is explaining to Lass that he used to think life would be more like Oliver Twist, which finishes with a well delivered punchline about Bill Sykes letting him “shag Nancy”. This is immediately contrasted by him saying that he would only be able to do that because Nancy wouldn't be on her period, which at this point Lass is. Uncomfortable with this knowledge the audience have to endure the ensuing argument having just been effortlessly eased into a sense of security by the couple's banter. The impressiveness of this piece comes from the fact that they show the toxicity of their relationship but also allow the audience to understand the reasons that they're in love, so you're not left asking the question, as you so often are in performances about toxic relationships, why are they together?
This is but one of many instances of these seamless emotional shifts, which is not only a credit to the actors but also to the writing itself. There is not a word out of place or without purpose. The digs they have at each other whilst they're joking and the little jokes they have whilst they argue build such a complex relationship you almost want them to stay together, even though they are so clearly bad for each other.
This, however, is not to say that I think the production was perfect. The choice to have the piece performed in the round was an interesting one, but one that I found ultimately to be problematic. Connaughton's final monologue is one of the most transfixing and impactful parts of the performance, unfortunately during it I found myself staring at the back of her head. Missing things like this leaves the audience feeling a little cheated and considering the quality of the performance, it was a shame how often this happened.
Despite the issues with the staging, writing this stellar complimented by such wonderful acting makes for a terrifyingly authentic representation of a combination of toxicity and poverty destroying lives. Starved runs at The Hope Theatre in Islington until 3rd August and it is well worth the trip.
Starved is on at The Hope Theatre in Islington, London until August 3rd.
Tickets available here -
Review written by Craig Unadkat