Dark humour and social comment pervade in Johnny Come Lately, a new play from the theatre company, Coal.
Written collaboratively under the direction of John Wright, the piece combines physical comedy with satire to present three different lives. Erika Poole plays a tattooed, boozing benefit cheat living in a council flat with her slightly her down trodden and disturbed daughter (Annie Fitzmaurice). The daughter regularly accompanies her mother on ‘shopping trips’ where they pick pocket people while her mother sits in a wheelchair pretending to be disabled.
They are clichéd scum of the earth and Lois Maskell’s impressive set with its cracked walls and doors illustrates the utter hopelessness of their situation. Into their lives enters Amr El-Bayoumi’s non-specific middle-Eastern man who can’t speak English – already the Daily Mail would be having a field day- and the three find themselves living together in an uneasy co-existence.
This story of the dregs of society is interwoven with appearances from the leader of the fabulously named ‘beige party’. Sam Parks gives a standout performance as the beige Peter Jones blending together the language patterns of Tony Blair, Nick Clegg and David Cameron. Or perhaps it should be called a stand-up performance as his every appearance had the audience in stitches.
There are certainly some great phrases, my favourites are when he encourages the audience to ‘shake off racism, shake off immigration, shake off immigrants’ and the comic sequence which begins with wanting to see ‘change’ and ends with ‘are you going through the change’ with a stream of puns in-between.
Johnny come Lately is apparently inspired from experiences writer Annie Fitzmaurice had living in a council flat in Elephant and Castle and world events such as the Arab Spring and Afghanistan. With its dark representation of the divisions in modern Britain it could be deeply depressing, instead it is funny and insightful.