On The Fringe: Domestic blitz

In The People Downstairs (Young Vic Studio), Sara, a dancer who has broken her leg, rides out a winter's convalescence unwillingly listening to the people downstairs. Michael is a t'ai chi-practising, baseball bat- wielding, Canadian heroin addict. Didi is his French lover, who wears a lot of black to match her bruises. "They're either fighting or fucking, I don't know which is worse," says Sara's flatmate Jelly, a black single mother, with more pressing things to worry about. "Treat them like TV," advises Sara's jazz-musician boyfriend, Ben. But the walls between the two houses are paper-thin, and the nightly thuds and screams force themselves into Sara's nightmares about her violent father in Ireland, which are back-projected on to the gauzy wallpaper of Katrina Lindsay's tricksy set. Unlike television, they can't be turned off.

Life in the city is far from pretty in Deirdre Strath's new play (the second part of the Wink ensemble's trilogy about urban living, which began promisingly last year with The Art of Random Whistling). Domestic violence is only part of the malaise. Sara's leg is fractured. Now her relationship with the sanguine Ben is cracking, too, as he tours the country. Jelly is haunted by the return of her former lover, the perpetually stoned Mark.

In one short scene, days go by. The phone never stops ringing. Mark is seen pushing around a toilet on wheels, his head shoved down the bowl. (Strath likes her vomit: in another scene Sara hurls into a kettle.) "I'm fed up with the whole sick, twisted lot of you," says Jelly. But even her eventual escape from this circle of hell is depressing. The nearest thing to redemption her new life appears to offer her is underfloor heating.

The most striking aspect of The People Downstairs is how little it's actually interested in the people downstairs. None of the play's characters is especially well-drawn, but Didi and Michael are sketchier than the rest. In place of a personality, she has an accent. He is a textbook fictional psycho, distant cousin to Max Cady, the avenging angel played by Robert De Niro in Cape Fear. His dialogue flirts with the cinematic, too. Asked what part of Canada he comes from, Michael replies, "I don't remember."

Didi and Michael remain cyphers. The brutality of their present-day relationship is only made real when filtered through Sara's memories of the past. It's as if Strath starts from the assumption that the lives of "the people downstairs" can't be understood by the rest of us. And, though that may be an accurate expression of how alienated and isolated cities have made us all, somehow it doesn't seem enough.

In the Young Vic's main house, the Oxford Stage Company revive Charlotte Keatley's My Mother Said I Never Should, which, since it was written in 1987, has become Britain's most performed play and an instant modern classic. It's the first time I'd seen it and - blame the hype perhaps - it came as a slight disappointment, let down a little by its feelgood ending.

Keatley's four-hander follows four generations of women in one family through this century, showing how their lives are moulded by - and in opposition to - their mothers' expectations. The play's twist is that hippie Jackie gives up her daughter to be brought up by her mother. What price the generation gap, then?

The acting is solid and unfussy (there's a particularly fine performance from Joan Campion as Doris, who has to play from eight to 80), while Dominic Cooke's production is admirably clear but feels slightly dutiful. It's as if he were striving not after a living interpretation but that mythical beast, the "definitive production".

'The People Downstairs' and 'My Mother Said I Never Should' both at the Young Vic, London SE1 (0171-928 6363) to 31 May. 'My Mother Said' then tours nationally

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
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.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?