BWW Review: HUNGER, Arcola Theatre
Dalston has changed a bit since I first washed up in these parts - no £1m+ two bedroom flats in those far off pre "Big Bang" days. But the poor, huddled in those intercommed up doorways thirty-five years on, are still with us, often younger than they were back then, but just as drawn, as pitiful, as pained.
One such is the subject of Hunger, Amanda Lomas's adaptation of Knut Hamsun's 1890 novel. Neither time nor place are defined, but we all know how these things happen - some poor decisions, a bit of bad luck and an inability to find that foothold in a hostile world. It could - and I mean this - have been me.
Kwami Odoom plays the young man, initially all earnest hope and optimism, diminished and eventually drained completely by those slamming doors, his world revolving around the imperative to find something to eat. Does he hold on to his dream of being a writer too long, his impoverishment, as much mental as physical, debarring him even from the traditional jobs of those down on their luck in a port city? But we're told to chase our dreams aren't we? How else do Disney makes their billions?
Odoom captures the decline of the protagonist with real sensitivity - he's a victim who never quite accepts his victimhood except for a couple of cris de coeur when it all becomes too much. It's a well judged performance, the charisma just held in check sufficiently - the mark of a fine actor exploring his potential.
He's supported by three actors (Archie Backhouse, Katie Eldred and Jessica Tomlinson) who play a multiplicity of roles from a would-be lover to a sympathetic friend to a transactional landlady - and all those people bustling through their own lives with barely time to see, never mind to help. If you're thinking that this is a study in urban alienation, you're right
Perhaps too much so. The spiral is relentless, the luck unrelentingly bad, the self-sabotage close to obsessional - indeed, there's a whole different review that might focus on the young man's mental health, but more specialist knowledge than mine would be needed for that.
Dickens would have relieved the tone with sentimentality - but Hamsun never traded in that stock - and Dostoevsky would have given us a bleak Russian psychodrama alongside the alienation. And it's that absence of light and shade or internal monologue that the production lacks - the hunger that drives the young man is almost all physical, except for a brief encounter that seems so unlikely that it is almost certainly a dream sequence.
Whether we gain yet more intensity (and, 80 minutes or so all-through, we're not short of that quality) for that fixed focus is an open question, but just a few moments relief might have shown us the man our anti-hero could have been and rounded out a somewhat attenuated personality.
Photo Alex Brenner