Katherine Soper’s Bruntwood prize-winning text has its world premiere at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester. The play explores the struggles facing young people in employment and the harsh reality of having your benefits cut in this Royal Exchange Theatre and Royal Court co-production.
The play revolves around the central character Tasmin Carmody (Erin Doherty), who starts working in a distribution warehouse on a zero-hours contract. The job is anything but glamorous, with grueling and unforgiving targets, oppressive managerial figures and an overall lack of compassion by the company for its employees. Tasmin has little choice but to work at the warehouse, due to her younger brother, Dean (Joseph Quinn), being declared fit to work and his benefits being recently cut. The play sees Tasmin managing work, to support her and Dean, whilst appealing the benefit-cutting verdict. This leaves her overworked with no way to escape the situation. The cuts seem to be an obvious injustice as Dean’s idiosyncratic behaviour makes it difficult for him to perform common tasks, such as leaving the house. The play is extremely emotive, as you instantly side with the Carmondys’ against the injustices they face.
Doherty gives a stunning performance, portraying Tasmin with enough depth that the audience don’t simply regarded her as someone to be pitied, but as a person to be admired for continuously trying to overcome the many hurdles in her life. Her physicality depicts the hardship she faces, as she walks more like a women in her 40’s than a young person in her prime. Similarly, Quinn manages to portray Dean’s quirky repetitive routines, without making the character one-dimensional. A great deal of credit has to go to Soper, who pushes the boundaries with her writing. This is evident through the character relationships, especially Tasmins and Deans. Tasmin expresses annoyance and envy at times that she has been denied the chance to gain a more prosperous future. Her desire to study Physics has to be forgone, due to the demands of caring for her brother. This of course doesn’t overpower the love, which is evident, between the two siblings. Instead these layers make the characters more realistic, which is one of the reasons why the story and characters are so engaging.
These layers and depths can be seen in all four characters. Even in Tasmin’s manager (Aleksandar Mikic), who has his own pressures and targets to stick to. The friendship between Tasmin and her co-worker Luke Mburu (Shaquille Ali-Yebuah), keeps the play from becoming too depressing, offering some much needed lighter moments. Luke is completely endearing and a character you instantly fall in love with for his easy smile and jokes. One of the standout moments of the show is when Tasmin performs Meat Loaf’s I’d Do Anything For Love for Luke. Doherety’s energy was infectious and you really do want to get up and join her. This is one of the rare moments of pure joy the audience are treated to.
Another striking moment emerged after Dean is left alone in the house. This follows a scene where Dean throws out all his hair products, denying him his routine of meticulously styling his hair into spikes. The sacrifice of the products was an attempt for Dean to show he could get better, but this quickly backfires. The tension builds leading to Dean purposely burning his hands on a hot pan, which emits an audible gasp from the audience and the shedding of a few tears.
Matthew Xia’s direction, placed the factory setting alongside the Carmodys’ home, highlighting the repetitive nature of both routines. The lighting and sound design was used to aid and increase the impact of various scenes to tremendous effect. This along with Soper’s superb script results in a highly emotive production filled with both highs and lows.
The play casts a light on a number of important issues. Firstly, the troubles that face young people as Tasmin is 19, Dean 17 and Luke is just 16-years-old. Secondly, it highlights the consequences of cuts to benefits not just for the claimant but also their family. Finally, the play questions how many people are living just to survive, in a world which revolves around your worth in labour.
Wish List is a must see. The play advocates a voice for people who are often misrepresented in society as ‘scroungers’ and ‘benefit cheats’. You can catch Wish List at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester until the 15th October. Get tickets here.