Michael Head’s latest venture, set in south London, addresses weighty themes through offhand comedy and high-octane drama.
A work that doesn’t take itself too seriously, Worth A Flutter—which runs until May 19 at The Hope Theatre in Islington—offers a refreshing portrayal of working class life.
Perhaps this show is what The West End needs.
It is time, perhaps, for theatre’s highbrow image to fade away to make way for a new, unstuffy version of the art form. Enter playwrights like Michael Head and Stephanie Silver — those willing to bridge the gap between everyday people and the so-called ‘liberal metropolitan elite’.
Indeed, Head’s autobiographical show is laced with relatable personas taken directly from his own life experiences. The grandson of a bank robber, he draws inspiration from the colourful characters he has encountered over the years.
Speaking to SW Londoner, he said: “I wanted to make it as close to my south London routes as possible, so there are a lot of personal stories.
“And also, I wanted it to be a comedy – I believe to make an audience cry, you have to make them laugh first.”
Head explained the play used comedy to bring serious issues through its characters.
“You’ve got these unbelievably flawed characters,” he said.
“All the characters are flawed; they’ve all got their scars for certain reasons.
“It’s our flaws that make us what we are and, hopefully, we learn from them.”
Set in and around a typical south London greasy spoon (or, in his words, a ‘grotty dive’) Head’s most recent offering provides an artistic window into the lives of ordinary Londoners. The playwright stars as protagonist Matt and he carries the performance almost entirely.
While Jack Harding plays Sam, Matt’s rival in love (and boxing, but more on that later). Harding gives a solid performance and demonstrates his clout for the craft.
UK TV favourites Lucy Pinder and Paul Danan appear in relatively fleeting capacities, making their respective roles almost akin to cameos. Nonetheless, Pinder impresses in her stage debut and Danan brings his much-loved charisma to the show. In a bizarre but impressive display, in the first half Pinder assumes the role of Matt’s Scottish penis, showcasing her ability to feign an accent. Both Pinder and Danan take on various roles; the play’s minimal cast makes it something of a variety/fringe performance.
Seasoned thespian Clare MacNamara plays Helen, the play’s central love interest, around which Head weaves the plot. MacNamara brings her expertise to the performance and instils a powerful dynamic. Her performance feels honest and is convincing throughout.
What ensues is a bold satire of the hilarity and hardship of these characters’ day-to-day relationships and social exchanges.
Not quite a laugh a minute, the show maintains a thread of humour—but without trying too hard. However, it’s not a humour suited to everyone’s tastes. If you’re easily offended, stay away.
The platitudes are, at times, laid on a little thick. After all, Head’s plucky narrative tiptoes the (sometimes precariously thin) line between relatable and trite. Though, it must be said, he stays on the right side of it.
The play’s opening half is light and accessible, making use of a well-paced script and relying heavily on Head’s high-energy performance. The actor and playwright has clearly put his heart and soul into this show. Enthusiastic and passionate, he appears at times like a giant Duracell bunny on overdrive, which easily wins the audience over.
The drama culminates in the second half where the performance takes a darker twist. At this point, the audience is introduced to an ominous scene of domestic violence, proving Head’s ability to address graver themes.
Much-needed light relief comes during a boxing exchange between rivalling lovers, Matt and Sam. It’s likely this scene harks back to Head’s childhood ambitions to become a boxer.
“I wanted to be a boxer,” he told SW Londoner.
“But I didn’t like getting hit, which is a problem—apparently.”
If its home truths you’re after, this is the play for you. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who can’t relate, in some way, to the shortcomings Head highlights.
But that’s not to say this is an unbearably hard-hitting drama. Ultimately, it achieves what it sets out to. It entertains.
And that’s why I urge you to go and see it.
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