Tuesday 23 May 2023

Awful People - Review

Latest Music Bar, Brighton


Written by Julie Burchill and Daniel Raven
Directed by Carole Todd

Joseph White, Temisis Conway, Seth Morgan and Deborah Kearne in rehearsal

Awful People is the latest play from Julie Burchill - this time co-authored with husband Daniel Raven - that proves to be a morality tale for our time.

India (Deborah Kearne) and Aonghas, pronounced Seamus, (Seth Morgan) are a bitterly estranged couple in early middle age who are nonetheless still pooling their creative talents together in the vain hope of penning a rap version of The Wind in the Willows. Their infertility, recently addressed by IVF, has seen them become late-onset parents to offstage toddler twins. 

While Aonghas lives in a nearby flat, India shares her comfortably appointed home with Galyna (Temisis Conway) a Ukrainian refugee who she has billeted in the room next door to the kitchen and tasked not just with the household’s domestic chores, but also with providing care to the toddlers.

Both Aonghas and Guardian reading India are fleshed out as grotesques and while their callous Class A drug-addled existence may at times verge on the caricature, there are piercing moments of clarity that define Burchill’s ability to skewer these chattering (il)liberal metropolitans with their own hypocrisies. When late in the play Galyna reveals that she is a qualified doctor and India exclaims “You never told us”, the Ukrainian’s reply is brilliantly devastating: “You never asked”.

Completing the quartet of players is Joseph White as Gideon, a Deliveroo motorcyclist. Born in Britain but of Nigerian descent, Gideon has been brought up with a strong Christian ethic and an equally firm moral code. From a poor background, and having lost a brother to drug-running violence, (possibly having delivered drugs to Aonghas in the past), Gideon’s take on the world is wise and measured and his scorn for Aonghas, to whom he is delivering a smashed avocado sandwich, is palpable. 

Aonghas and India view immigrant communities as being there to serve them on low wages. Gideon and Galyna however, having experienced the harshness of life’s knocks, bring a more sanguine take on society and view with contempt the virtue signalling of their patrician patrons. Gideon describes divorce as a “disease of the affluent” and comments, with chilling perception, of the likelihood of the twins growing up into arrogant replicants of their parents.

As Aonghas behaves with a casual misogyny, so does India express an Emma Thompson-like contempt for the UK “Another day, another reason to hate this miserable island” with both of them spitting sneerful Remoaning contempt at the ruin and inconvenience brought to them by Brexit. It is the youthful Gideon and Galyna who rise to become the adults of this piece.

At around 75 minutes, the play is short and (bitter) sweet. All 4 performers turn in assured work, deftly directed by Carole Todd and wrapped up at the end with an unexpected but gorgeously sung solo from Conway. 

Only on for a tiny run in Brighton’s Fringe Festival and coming in with visibly low running costs, Awful People deserves a wider audience as there are millions across the country to whom Burchill and Raven’s words will resonate with truth. The work is crying out for a British theatre (either London or regional) to stage this provocative piece.

Runs until 25th May

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