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Amber Gregory for EXTRA! EXTRA!

Senti-Mental at the Union Theatre

This is a story about relationships. Erin and Harry. Rob and Raquel. Rob and Harry. Virginia and Rob. Phyllis and Harry. And then there's the heroin, and that affects them all.

The silver dragon, as it is poetically described, finds its way into their lives to confuse, control and abuse. Harry, the oldest druggie tramp in London town holds control over so many lives, and we see how this control affects Rob, his grandson. I've seen a lot of plays about relationships, a lot of plays about heroin, but this is the first play I have ever seen about a junkie granddad. And it works. Harry is kind, caring, dirty and hooked. Erin is a young girl, from the Isle of Whithorn in Scotland, scared and lost in the depths of London. She needs help, Harry is there for her- for as long as he needs her... and then there is Rob. Emotionally lost, we are shown Rob's struggle to lead a better life- whether this involves being in control of Raquel, trying to get one up on his granddad or taking the perfect hit of heroin whilst listening to opera- he strives for them all! Once a public school boy, being ignored by his sex obsessed mother, he's now living in Raquel's scummy council house, trying to work out how much money he can get for a shopping trolley. And we must not forget Raquel. She wants a hit. She wants a hit. She wants a hit. She wants a hit.

Playwright Dean Stalham has served six years in prison since 1992. After a visit from the Royal Court Theatre to HMP Wandsworth he started playwriting, his first play being Sporadicity, which was on at Hampstead Theatre in 2007. In Senti-Mental, his second play, he shows us a world that he can understand. He portrays it in such a way that the audience can also begin to understand. The language is colloquial yet poetic as techniques of stichomythia and metaphor litter the play.

At the start of the play we are at first in the cold streets of London. The venue is entirely appropriate as the theatre space is dark and dingy (also freezing, so take a warm coat!). The cold setting is also appropriate for the stark and starchy setting of Rob and Raquel's tacky council flat. The most beautiful artistic image however is that of the florescent dragon that is lit up on the stage in the very first scene. The colours are bright, trippy, architecturally accurate and mesmerising, a perfect image for the metaphor of the silver dragon. This very image is also being sold as a painting in the theatre bar (which is extremely warm and cosy- a great contrast from the space itself!)

The actors show great dedication to their parts. In particular that of Harry, played by Martin Head. He may be playing a dirty old man, but he sure is cool with his funky hat and sparkly eye patch. However wrong you may feel about what he does, there is a certain amount of sympathy that the audience can feel towards him, and a part of you that thinks it'd be pretty quirky to have a granddad that was the greatest tramp on the streets of London. The character of Rob is a challenging one, and Nick Bartlett digs deeper and deeper into his role as the play develops. In the final scene we are in Rob's mind, what we are shown is something completely out of this world. The audience are drawn into his head where we can see Bartlett's obvious passion and understanding for the role he is playing. The only query I would have is that of his broad cockney accent, which I think was a deliberate choice; to demonstrate how the years of living the hard life in London has changed him from his public school days. However, this does take away from the idea that the couple are from contrasting backgrounds- Raquel is a working class Scottish lass, whilst Rob is a middle class public school boy. This public school boy image is only portrayed at random points in the play and tended to get lost in the midst of the emotional depth of the rest of the show. If this clash of the classes was exaggerated more it could have given the play more depth in a different dimension.

Both play and performance are dangerous, racy, soft, gentle, bleak yet colourful. Snippets of singing from all the actors gave it diversity, breaking up the plot and adding raw emotion that can sometimes be too difficult to depict in mere words. We were introduced to these exciting characters, and we see them torn apart. At the end of the show we leave them. Parts of them will always stay with us. And we will forever be followed by the silver dragon.

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