Theatre company When I Say Jump were one of the winners of Ideas Fund Edinburgh 2012 with their show A Modern Town – an ambitious play about a small seaside town. Catherine Love reports back, with photographs by Jassy Earl...
Like many previous jewels of the English coast, Newton Bassett has lost its sheen.
A dried-up former tourist trap packed with pound shops and downmarket cafes, the faded town of Jac Huesbo’s new play is struggling, much like the family business Joe has inherited from his father. Not unlike many souring high streets around the country, it is all a bit “past its sell-by date”.
In come the suits, with their smug thumbs up and high street bank “here to help” rhetoric. From the moment they offer the town the solution that they have been dreaming of, it is clear that there must be a catch. Huesbo’s play does not hinge on dramatic tension; the inevitability of disaster here is tangible, but the interest is in seeing just how those pieces fall apart.
While to all appearances a straightforward naturalistic piece, there is a heightened realism to Huesbo’s direction that has something of the nightmare about it. This slight edge of the surreal finds an outlet in a striking scene in which Joe indulges in a night of excess with his shady new friends, a robotic, grotesque routine of choreographed drinking, dancing and coke-sniffing in which the bankers emerge as maniacal figures.
This approach lacks subtlety, but for a play about a small seaside town it has a surprising level of ambition. The questions broached, if not all with equal nuance, include issues of social climbing, tradition, nostalgia, Britishness and responsibility, not to mention the timely debris of this country’s credit culture. While there is a hint of sentimentality to the wistful affection shown towards the past, there is also a bitter tang in the piece’s criticisms of ruthlessly individualist capitalism.
Played against the backdrop of the creeping shadow of privatisation and David Cameron’s empty calls for the “Big Society”, what might be a simple tale of small town woes gains a bigger bite. As the status of Britain’s first truly private town slowly encroaches on Newton Bassett, it is a nightmare that seems all too plausible.
A Modern Town is at the Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, until 27 August. Book tickets.
Images by Jassy Earl.
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