Over to Soho Theatre last night, which is conveniently very near my office. However, what with my working late coupled with some general faffery, I had just enough time to nip over to Chinatown and grab a red bean bun before the show started.
Oh, and the show? That was Talawa’s production of Pure Gold, a play by Michael Bhim. It concerns a married couple, Simon and Marsha, who are seriously struggling with money after Simon loses his job as a bus driver. As a result, Marsha has had to give up her studies (in, um, something. Actually, I don’t think we ever find out) to take a job in a supermarket, and their young son Anthony, a smart and talented kid, considerate but still essentially a twelve-year-old boy, is asking for a piano for his birthday, not realising the pressure this is putting on his already stressed parents.
Further pressure comes in the form of Simon’s cousin Paul, who offers him a driving job – not mini-cabbing as he tells Marsha – but ferrying illegal immigrants into the country, and an envelope full of cash to do it without asking too many questions. And though Simon makes a big show of talking about choices, the importance of doing the right thing, of taking action and not making excuses, the pull of having all that money in his pocket is just too strong.
While I really liked Golda Rosheuvel’s performance as the infinitely calm Marsha, other aspects of Bhim’s play felt rather raw and underdeveloped. There were some superbly tense scenes between Simon and Marsha in the second half, but while these domestic scenes resonated, a lot of the remaining writing felt in need of a good red pen session. The inclusion of the illegal immigrant thing was a clunky plot device, nothing more, and the brief appearance of a local Irish villain (intended to be menacing I suspect, but really, really not) felt wildly out of place.
I did like Mike Britton’s set though. He's the man responsible for the design of Ben Yeoh’s Nakamitsu and the fantastically evocative indoors-outdoors orchard look of Hampstead Theatre’s Comfort Me With Apples. The family's council flat was very naturalistically depicted, with a working kettle and sink and a shabby sofa, but the furniture was housed in this concrete-effect box, that rather made it appear as if Marsha and Simon were living in some random corner of the National Theatre. And, were they not currently in Peru, I’m sure the Whingers would have delighted in the onstage cooking and consumption of a fried egg on toast plus some sort of pasta concoction.
Oh, and the role of the couple’s curmudgeonly but kind-hearted neighbour George is played by Leonard Fenton, who was Doctor Legg in Eastenders. I know this because I was sitting near the front and when he came on stage for the first time I heard an amusing verbal ripple of ‘Ooh, it’s Dr Legg’ travel back through the audience. Which just goes to show you can do all the Beckett and Shakespeare in the world but you can’t escape the ‘Enders.