Rigged is the story of Nathan (Kyle Summercorn), a troubled young man with an anger management problem and an addiction to fruit machines. Losing his temper following the loss of yet more money, Nathan attacks a machine and gets himself an ASBO, thereby further limiting his options.
The only good thing in Nathan’s life is his sparky girlfriend, Sarah (Niamh Webb), a girl whose ambition will surely take her away from the dead-end town where the play is set. The hope her love offers Nathan is complicated considerably, however, when she becomes pregnant and the young couple find they have to make some extremely tough choices.
Ashmeed Sohoye set out to write a play for young audiences that would explore the issue of deprivation amongst white British working class families. The points he illustrates with Rigged are very valid ones: it is hardly surprising that a boy like Nathan goes astray given his family history of illiteracy, abuse and criminality. Sohoye does his best to offer a happy ending of sorts, but clearly this is no easy task. The odds are stacked against Nathan and those like him and there appears to be no obvious solution to the quandary that British society finds itself in.
The cast of four - Daisy Whyte and Paul Clerkin join Summercorn and Webb to play Nathan’s mother and adoptive father - should be praised for their sensitive portrayal of often difficult material and Natalie Wilson’s direction is refreshingly original. All of the actors play additional roles, often playing two sides of a conversation; this device can fall on its face but here illustrates successfully the social and educational divide between the family and those they come into contact with. Wilson also succeeds in addressing her young audience without resort to patronising techniques. This play is accessible to young people from the age of 14 but also has plenty to offer adult audiences.
Neil Irish’s set and Aideen Malone’s lighting design combine to provide a simple backdrop to the action that lends itself well to the imaginative work done by the actors.
Sohoye is an experienced writer and his naturalistic dialogue reflects this, but at times Rigged feels like the work of a more inexperienced dramatist. The play is crammed so full of issues that few of them are ever fully explored. Nathan’s mother has recently turned to evangelical Christianity, for example, but no explanation is given as to why she has done so or why it has affected her thinking about her son in the way that it has. There is something cynical and lazy in the convenience of this plot inclusion that takes away from the play’s thoughtful consideration of Nathan’s experience. That said, Rigged offers young people a way into a tricky topic that certainly deserves some discussion.