Playwright Mick Gordon and legendary singer-songwriter Billy Bragg
have collaborated to create this production-come-gig examining what it
means to be British, white and working class.
The play arrives at The Wellcome Collection for a short run against a
backdrop of rising unemployment figures, St George’s Day and a General
Election. For Bragg it is particularly timely given that BNP leader
Nick Griffin is currently standing in his hometown of Barking.
Designer Tom Scutt has done an impressive job turning the exhibition
space into a set. So much so that upon entering, you’d be happy to just
explore the area, which feels like an art installation. Discordant
noises from the sound check resonate across the three stages
(consisting of a church and open casket, bar stools and living room)
and a red, glowing strip runs along the perimeter of the walls.
Bragg introduces the play with his unmistakably warm cockney baritone
and kicks things off with a song called "Home". He then directs us
across to the living room stage like a "ferry operator herding
returning holiday-makers home", and invites us to sit on the pews and
empty stages if needs be. So far, so cosy.
The play opens with George (Shea Davis) and his Nana (June Watson)
looking at family photos before quickly descending into a domestic
argument when flustered parents Jack (Michael Gould) and Jacqui (Susan
Vidler) appear. Until you realise that tensions are running high
because the family is about to attend the granddad's funeral, the
melodrama borders on something from EastEnders.
But it’s the news that Jack intends to stand as a BNP councilor that
really punctures a hole in this otherwise standard family snapshot. We're then moved on to the next stage, while Bragg launches into another
song. The subsequent scenes shift in promenade fashion between each
Perhaps the most noteworthy performance comes from Tony (David
Kennedy), who bears an uncanny resemblance to the character of Combo in
Shane Meadows' film This is England.
It's Tony who is trying to push Jack into standing as councillor, and
his emotional whirlwhind of pent-up sorrow at the loss of his son in
Afghanistan, rage and racist non-sequiturs is truly compelling.
There are moments in Pressure Drop when the message becomes too didactic, and too loudly exhibited.
A good example of this is when deceased granddad Ron says: "There’s a
freedom in music ... If only we could learn from its fluidity the world
would be a calmer place." Well said, but the message arrives
"Art can’t change the world," says Bragg at the end - evoking Woodie Guthrie’s famous 'this guitar kills fascists'
sticker - "but it can change your perspective." And while it remains
unlikely that the Collection’s theatre-going crowd needs any convincing
not to vote BNP, the plays’ portrait of white, working class social
exclusion is powerfully felt.