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Review: Kicked in the Sh*tter, at Hope Theatre

Poignant play illustrates how mental illnesses are misunderstood by many – including the Department for Work and Pensions

31 March, 2017 — By Elizabeth Gear

Helen Budge and James Clay in Kicked in the Sh*tter

A NUMBER of films and books have focused on the impact of benefit cuts and the hardening up of state welfare in recent years, most notably Ken Loach’s I Daniel Blake. Now, Leon Fleming’s poignant yet heavy new play directed by Scott Le Crass is another reminder of the predicament of many.

Set in Birmingham, four simple brutalist blocks on stage convey the greyness of the environment. An unnamed brother and sister duo, played by Helen Budge and James Clay, are first seen as teenagers drinking Lambrusco. Their conversations are lighthearted and hopeful – the kind of talk we’d expect from adolescents. The narrative shifts between these flashbacks and the present-day reality. The adult brother is suffocated by clinical depression; the adult sister is up to her eyes in stress, caring for their ill mother while trying to tend to her own children.

Depression is one of several crippling mental illnesses that is misunderstood by many, including, notoriously, the Department for Work and Pensions. The brother’s description of the affliction as an entity quite separate to himself, intent on his destruction, communicates its severity: “I can’t escape from it as it’s with me always, telling me to die”.

Both actors are convincing, and in the intimacy of the Hope Theatre it really does feel as though we been caught up a difficult family moment when there are screaming matches between the two.

The play also encourages us to feel angry on their behalf.

It becomes apparent that neither of the two protagonists are fully in control of their own destinies. Failed by the welfare system, the optimism of youth is flattened out by the reality of being responsible adults living on the poverty line.

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