Dig that trash

Tom Kempinski's challenging new play is set on a rubbish dump among scavengers. By Adrian Turpin

There hasn't been such a load of old rubbish in a London theatre for a long time. There must be a ton of it, heaped into hillocks on the stage: newspapers, tin cans, old toys, plastic bags, rags. It's not often that you find the sickly sweet scent of body odour and mothballs in the stalls, but at the moment the Theatre Royal, Stratford East smells like a charity shop on a damp winter.

In the near-silent opening minutes of What a Bleedin' Liberty, Jenny Tiramani's set overwhelms the senses, a tribute not just to her design skills but- to the 126 individuals and businesses credited with collecting enough refuse to re-create an East End waste dump. Wispy clouds scud across the backdrop; Canary Wharf tower shimmers in a heat haze, and Jo Joelson's lighting perfectly catches that point on a summer evening when the sky swells like a bruise, hovering indecisively on the point of rain. It looks great, and Philip Hedley's well-paced production justifies all the visual care lavished upon it.

The rubbish dump that the middle-aged Doreen and Bert Gurney scour for valuables may be the dominant image in Tom Kempinski's new two-hander. But it is not - the author says - a dominant symbol. In Samuel Beckett's Happy Days, writes Kempinski in the programme, the mound in which Winnie is buried was a symbolic mound. By contrast, his mound in What a Bleedin' Liberty, "is real, and Bert and Doreen's struggle is real and hard. Life for my characters is hard but it is not meaningless." To ram this point home, he has subtitled the play: "an attack on the despair and philosophy of meaninglessness espoused by the great Samuel Beckett."

All of which sounds like a licence for an hour and a half's sentimentality of the "we worked hard but we was happy" variety. Fortunately, though, What a Bleedin' Liberty is smarter than that. True, it wears its heart unfashionably on its sleeve when it comes to politics and social issues. If you were told it had been written in the Seventies and stuck in a drawer for 25 years, you wouldn't be at all surprised. True, too, that there aren't many belly laughs for a work waging war on despair. But Kempinski offers some sharp dialogue to capture the banter of a lengthy marriage ("Shut up and dig for victory"); and Kate Williams and Eric Richard give a couple of finely understated - and ultimately moving - performances as the scavengers who unearth more than they've bargained for.

Most importantly, perhaps, when it comes to offering a corrective to Beckett's bleak vision, Kempinski's script conjures a world of human relationships and responsibilities off stage: a real world at that, full of machine tools, television licences and the Ford motor company at Dagenham. A preference for the specific over the abstract is a central theme in What a Bleedin' Liberty; it's also the greatest strength of Kempinski's writing.

To 18 May, Theatre Royal, Stratford, London E15. Booking: 0181-534 0310

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate