The Dissidents*** (Tricycle Theatre)

Posted: March 27, 2015 in Theatre

dissidents__gallery_imageThis review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

With the General Election looming, the plight of the disadvantaged, disaffected and socially disconnected features in most news bulletins every day. Therefore, Shamser Sinha’s new play, which looks closely at the so-called underclass, could hardly be more topical. Siblings Juan (Stevie Basaula) and Selena (Tania Nwachukwu) are second generation immigrants who are faced with obtaining credit to pay for their father’s funeral. He is intelligent but, having been an habitual truant from school, illiterate. Unable to find employment, he has moved into a squat. She, although difficult and argumentative, is able to hold down a job and a home. Moving from a Job Centre to a failing NHS hospital and then to the squat, the play takes its time to gain a hold and find its focus. Sinha embraces many themes – homelessness, unemployment, mental illness, physical disability, the National Health Service, Police aggression and more – whilst carefully sidestepping issues of crime and addiction. With so much going on, it is not until the later stages, when the squat and its inhabitants become central, that the play acquires real dramatic power. Beth Shouler’s production does not help to provide early clarity with the stage often too cluttered with props and actors who are struggling to establish their characters’ identities. This production, presented by Tricycle Youth Theatre shows us a multicultural society and has actors playing multiple roles, many older than themselves. Yet there are times when the production plods and it is disappointing that Shouler does not extract more energy from her 20-strong youthful cast. Amidst what is sometimes chaos, Sinha has many interesting points to make. When Juan gets a mandatory job placement in Poundland, under the charge of a manager from the David Brent school, his chances are sabotaged not by his own inability or laziness, but by his friends, indicating the existence of a negative culture which works against individual advancement. Occasionally, the play is stronger when it is semi-satirical than when being earnest. The de facto leader of the squat is an educated, articulate middle class woman whose bank account is topped up by her family; no doubt she has her eye on a career in left wing politics. The media is targeted too – Juan is put forward to be interviewed by a cynical journalist and, very cleverly, Sinha exposes how facts, people and events become distorted for public consumption. At the heart of this drama is the relationship between Juan and Selena, which comes to the fore in the moving final scenes. Selena asks Juan if he had the world in one hand, his own child in the other and had to drop one, which would he choose. In putting family first, Sinha clearly sees self empowerment as the way forward for this pair, but he is less clear on the future of the others that they will leave behind.

Performance date: 26th March 2015

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