Over the last few years we’ve seen a spate of shows written to shed light on issues surrounding mental health and social inequality, but as the title suggests, Kicked in the Sh*tter does things a little differently.
Written by Leon Fleming and directed by Scott Le Crass, the production avoids the fatal flaw of simply criticising the establishment but rather chooses to take an honest look at the system and those who depend on it.
A brother (Him) and sister (Her) who have been dealt a raw hand struggle to hold together the threads of their lives. Her is a single mum who cares for her own mother, while Him battles depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Both are dependent on the system for financial support but seem to repeatedly slip through the cracks. As their relationship is challenged and their circumstances deteriorate, we are presented with an all too familiar and heart-breaking story that is certainly not limited to the context in which it is set.
Visually the piece is incredibly simple, but this adds to the humility of the production. It was interesting to note that almost all ‘set changes’ were carried out by Her, perhaps a metaphor for the sole burden she carries within the piece. The production is short and sharp but the duration is perfect; long enough to build connections but concise enough to leave you with questions unanswered and thoughts to ponder.
Both actors are exceptional. Helen Budge has the perfect mix of strength and vulnerability that makes her both relatable and inspirational. James Clay walks a fine line between endearing ‘younger brother’ and recovering addict. While infuriating at times, he presents us with a character who is as warm as he is troubled and we can’t help but empathise with him. The chemistry between the two is incredible. Their ability to shift between the heavier adult scenes and the playful adolescent moments shows a strength and focus more than worthy of commendation.
Controversially, the piece does not rest on its laurels with regards to mental illness. The strength displayed by Him following Her’s breakdown shows both the audience and the character that he can rise above his diagnosis. A risky creative decision, particularly when so much work has been carried out in recent years to raise awareness of the burden of mental illness and to overcome stigma, however, the script addresses this elegantly and draws a line between the support needed for recovery and the strength that it takes to subsequently move forward.
The re-humanisation of the welfare system is perhaps one of the most fundamental shifts in this piece. To hear “I’m sorry – as a human” coming from the welfare officer is quite disarming particularly when it is delivered with such genuine sincerity. So often we forget that the red tape that renders the system ineffectual does so not, only for recipients, but for those with a genuine desire to help.
Kicked in the Sh*tter is a brave piece of theatre that is executed with elegant simplicity. Looking at well-known issues with a fresh set of eyes, this is a production that reminds us of the ongoing struggle that prevails within society. It may ask more questions than it answers, but at least someone is reminding us to ask.
Review by Cassandra Griffin
Depression. Sanctions. Anxiety. Self-harm. Back to work. Substance Abuse.
JSA. AA. ESA. FA. PIP. It’s grim out there. It’s grim everywhere.
Sibling love and sibling dependency; Kicked in the Sh*tter is a tale of brother and sister struggling to live with mental health difficulties amidst the labyrinthine wreckage of a decayed welfare state.
This isn’t poverty porn; there’s nothing sexy about despair.
Life is pretty sh*t when you’re trapped in a forever darkening world of in-compassionate government policy with no way out. Holding on to each other might be the only thing stopping you drown.
Leon Fleming’s new play is a story of struggle and hope for those who fall through the cracks today and every day.
Kicked in the Sh*tter is co-commissioned by Theatre in the Mill, Bradford and comes from the team that created the ★★★★★, award nominated West End hit Sid.
kicked in the sh*tter
writer : LEON FLEMING / director : SCOTT LE CRASS
21 Mar – 8 Apr 2017