Salford seems to be a place that the media and theatre draw from, for all the wrong reasons, as it’s never really a pretty story and therefore it must be fast becoming a place that nobody would ever want to visit.
The depiction in Ed Jones’ gritty drama is no exception, apart from the fact that unlike so many other works which delve into Salford’s council estates and scally culture, Exit Salford is based on a true story.
The play tells the story of Luke, a writer who decides to buy a house in Salford in an area in which a group of local teens had previously staked their claim and now inhabit his doorstep as if it were their own. At first Luke manages to keep things friendly and polite with the troubled youths but ultimately the nice guy becomes the victim as we see the situation go from bad to worse.
The play could be described as a cautionary tale, who do we invite in to our lives? Can playing the nice guy in a world of violence and misery ultimately become our own undoing? As an audience we know that the situation is destined not to end well, but it is the writer’s skill for storytelling that keeps the journey to this conclusion engaging and relevant.
The bare minimal staging consists of a few chairs and a litter filled performance space, which ingeniously doubles up as the shows props, this allows the play to race through the story whilst allowing you to feel like part of the community. Martha Simon’s direction is subtle and swift and keeps proceedings moving nicely even when a few script choices almost threaten to slow the story down. My only reservation with the staging is with an attack scene which feels too removed from what was a very real and naturalistic production.
Alan French as Luke gives a beautiful but understated performance, his connection with the audience and easy stage manner keep you enthralled with every move he makes and every line he speaks. Not to be outdone however, are Rebecca Elliot and Ant Singleton. Elliot gives a striking performance delivering the humour and tragedy to absolute perfection whilst Singleton threatens to steal the show as the down an out scally who despite his wrong doings ultimately leaves you empathising with his situation.
The script as a whole is beautifully written and the dialogue with the youths feels real. We have heard these kids ourselves when sat on a bus for example, and Jones’ understanding of these characters never drags them in to cliché mode.
The evening is not without fault however, we could have done without seeing so much of the ex girlfriends character as the piece went along, as her character brings the narrative to a halt. Maybe this time would have been better spent focusing on the racial prejudice of the youths as this was an idea which was never fully realised.
Exit Salford is an enthralling piece of theatre which easily holds your attention for the sixty minutes, it may not have anything new to say but it successfully portrays life in these areas and the hardships people living there face on a daily basis.
However I now think it’s time to give poor Salford a break, the tourism board must really have their work cut out for them.