revew: Katherine Soper – Wish List
by Katherine Soper/
dir Matthew Xia/
The Royal Exchange Studio/
24/9 – 15/10/2016//
There is poison threaded through the air of Wish List. Tamsin lives with and cares for her brother Dean, who cannot leave the house, she works to targets she cannot hit in a packing factory and doesn’t know whether she’ll be asked to come back tomorrow. The manager is as unresponsible for the state of her labour as she is. Wish List is a play which makes its points through small, personal drama, rather than overt political polemic. Very often the dialogue is unfortunately clunky, with characters being a little over-expository, and a few moments where it made its ‘point’ over-obvious. As much as a show is a machine, this feels as if it could at least use a little more oil. But I felt for everyone, which was a nice change.
I’ve been telling all my mates it was miserable – which it was – and I’ve been telling them that I am not one of the people who needed to see the show. This may not be entirely accurate and I’m certainly glad for having seen it, but I know everything is shit. I know that the assessment methods of the DWP are dehumanising and humiliating and I know that the current government prioritises employment over care. I know vulnerable people are being bullied and tricked and I am already angry and sad about those things, so what does it profit me to watch them unfold in front of me?
I’m not certain now what I brought into the room with me in terms of my expectations of what Wish List was supposed to achieve. Probably some level of intrigue about what the Bruntwood Award had unearthed, I definitely remember hoping it was short, because I was tired, I also hoped it might not be as miserable as I feared. Fat chance of that last one.
The idea of a play having a function isn’t a controversial one; the arguments roll out when people disagree on what that function is. Andrew Haydon’s Postcards from the Gods blog has recently seen a number of visits from an anonymous right wing comment vigilante. Among other things, Haydon is ‘enforcing the suspicion […] that many people working in the theatre today are really political operatives with political agendas who happen to choose the theatre as their chosen patch’.* Fascinating though it is that this individual is still only ‘suspicious’ that theatre makers may inject politics into their work, more fascinating is how easy it is to agree with (some of) their observations whilst failing to see them as negative points.
Regardless of what it was intending to achieve and how that was done, I see Wish List at least partly as an attempt to spread awareness of the plight of the real people that live in these situations. As an invitation to consider what role we play (in being people with at least one free evening in our week and the energy to see a play) in the way these people are forced into their lives. A conveyor belt thrusts its mechanical way into the centre of the traverse set, like a hypodermic. I do not know if it brings antidote or further poison. Is Tamsin better off for having a job? Is anyone?
Work is no solution in the world of Wish List, but it is peddled as one, by an unseen cohort of rule-makers who do not need to be present to be there. It is an obvious criticism of the DWP’s recent political efforts and the lives of the delicate characters onstage are torn by it. Wish List offers frequent and futile nuggets of hope before sweeping the rug away again, again, again. It is a crushing and inhuman system that Tamsin and Dean are subjects of. I wish I could say that I have been inspired to action but I feel only reminded of my own political impotence.
And maybe I’m just too cynical, maybe I don’t believe that people really change when they go to the theatre. If I believe in the theatre as a machine, maybe I don’t believe in it as a transformative one. Maybe I conflict on an ideological level with some premise behind this thing. Maybe I conflict too little. Is a lack of affect for an audience member a success for marketing, a failure for a play? Maybe I cannot commit to how I feel about it because the most of the work Wish List had on me is reminding me of the despair that my life is built on. I only say these things because of the combination of person I was when I saw it and who I am now, and in an hour, a week or a year I’ll tell you something entirely different.
This play is a record. This is how our government is treating people right now. And I hope to hell that it can become incredibly dated incredibly quickly and we will look back with horror and relief that we fixed this. And I am scared that we cannot fix this.
*anonymous, on Andrew’s Streetcar review