The Out of Joint tour of Robin Soans’s verbatim docudrama in a mixed race theatre club in Burnley comes to rest in Wilton’s, not the ideal venue for it, but a satisfactory showcase for the energy and vibrancy of Max Stafford-Clark’s company.
The project originated in an invitation to Stafford-Clark and Soans from LAMDA to create a new play with students; and several of those students - Kashif Khan, Rose Leslie, Kathryn O’Reilly, Claire Rafferty and Lisa Kerr - are making terrific professional debuts in a show which has not, oddly enough, been seen in Burnley itself.
The play was co-produced at the Bolton Octagon and has toured since September. The founder of “Streetwise” is a do-gooding liberal social worker, Trish, whom Celia Imrie plays as a pious mixture of Mother Theresa and Patricia Routledge, referring to us, the audience, as a few friends who have dropped by to watch the technical rehearsal of the new show.
The proceedings are never less than watchable, but the structural conceit collapses in a well organized but theatrically limp series of personal testaments about racial and sexual abuse, arranged marriages, suddenly an outburst of an incident of rape, then an example of a successful mixed race marriage.
What happened to the rehearsal, you ask yourself after an hour of this? You could interpret this flaw as a deliberate strength, for the show, when we see it, is a Bollywood dance spectacular, and the meat of the evening is the grim reality of these scrap heap lives, the “real drama.”
You learn a lot, especially from the always superb Stephanie Street’s story of a Bangladeshi arranged marriage that she made work, and the horrific story of “grooming” endured by the younger sister of Lorna Stuart’s passionately wide-eyed, deeply riled Tamsin at the hands of a group of coke-dealing businessmen.
The stories sit up, one by one, instead of developing organically in a theatrical context. Needless to say, the county officer Roy (Matthew Wait) is laughed out of court for his complaint about constant negativity.
Cynical pessimism in Burnley, he’s told, is a symptom of the malaise, not its cause. It’s interestingly suggested that the BNP prospers because of a false invocation of nostalgia. Would the rise of Burnley FC to the premiership be part of that?