The Trap, Clapham Omnibus, review: Payday lending drama revisits the usual anti-capitalist haunts

Making its European Debut at Clapham Omnibus, Kieran Lynn​'s play on social ills is set in the moral wasteland of a payday lending company

Joe Vesey-Byrne
Thursday 02 November 2017 19:54
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Sophie Guiver as Clem and Jahvel Hall as Tom in ‘The Trap’
Sophie Guiver as Clem and Jahvel Hall as Tom in ‘The Trap’

Payday loan companies get spikes on Fridays, at major sporting events, and just before Christmas. This bleak fact in a way sums up moralising message of The Trap, a play that lays addiction and society's ills at the feet of capitalism.

In this parable of sorts, two members of staff in a payday loan shop resolve to steal whatever is in the safe, to cope with their own spiralling rent and bills. The pair come close to getting away with it, when their branch manager arrives in the dead of night, fighting his own demons.

For a play whose premise involves money lenders, it is a surprising twist of writing that Kieran Lynn makes the sympathetic, downtrodden characters the very people selling the high interest loans, rather than the people buying them. Tom and Clementine are the young employees, unable to get a foot in the door when it comes to accruing wealth. Managers Alan and Meryl are crushed by their generation's financial woes, credit card debt and mortgages.

The titular 'trap' doesn't so much suggest itself but instead plants the red flag in front of you and sings three verses of L'Internationale.

Lynn's previous works, An Incident at the Border and Breaking the Ice, about the redrawing of a national borders and climate change, respectively, are equally political topics, and The Trap certainly pushes an anti-free-market line with conviction.

The play had some good lines amid some other less realistic dialogue. The establishing scene is a tad clunky, and tonally the jokes and slapstick humour of the heist-gone-wrong jar too much with the realities of engulfing debt.

However, good elements like the narrative structures and the exploration of one character in particular, lend this play moments of quality theatre.

Corbyn lookalike: Andrew MacBean as Alan (Photo by Laura Harling)

Alan (Andrew MacBean) is probably the most well defined of the characters, with multiple layers and flaws. The much dismissed branch manager, with his own money worries, and willingly doing the firm’s ill deed under the rationale that everyone is in the rat race.

Resembling Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn when he was still eschewing poppies (presumably a conscious choice), Alan is the most moral and the most desperate character.

Jahvel Hall as Tom is also good, but he and the other characters are too underdeveloped to be more than ciphers for their own perspective on the morality or immorality of what they do, and how 'the system' is to blame.

Although monologues can become something of an audience lecture, one line in particular is likely to stay with audiences in the days after.

"There’s a fine line between an addict and a good customer".

The play concludes that the poor fight among themselves over the scraps while the rich get richer. It can be a bit like a lecture at times, which means its point is clear and direct, but far from how ordinary people talk.

Yet the sombre message is never made explicit, with the punters who use the lenders nowhere to be seen. Putting the moral case front and centre, and then not facing the reality of the customers undercuts any attempt at brutal realism in the play.

Old anti-politics and anti-banking ground is retrodden; and although the farcical elements are amusing, the political sermonising fails to land enough big blows.

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