[Theatre review] If I Were A Carpenter

if-i-were-a-carpenterOriginally published in Venue, issue 855. It’s not quite a kicking, but it’s a fair summary of the least enjoyable experience I’ve ever had to slap a number on.

The Provocation company takes a hammer to the idea of social mobility in this new play by Dougie Blaxland, and most of the blows fall short of the target. If I Were A Carpenter presents three families (aspirational upper-middle class, beleaguered working class, and miscreant underclass) facing various cultural and economic crises, all ending in almightily signposted tragedy.

The five-actor cast makes game work of portraying multiple interlinked characters, though the sudden shifts can be disconcerting with only the adoption of some wobbly northern accents to steer the audience through (because the poor are always with us, and they always come from Yorkshire). Additionally, the cast take on the role of chorus, declaiming awkward couplets in the person of various institutions: government, NHS, DVLA (not really), UCAS (really).

But by presenting the instruments of state as the impersonal agents of social repression nurturing what one character calls “the conveyor belt generation”, the play misses the most potent satirical point: institutions fail most often by cock-up, not conspiracy. The flat characters fail to ignite any feeling for the stereotyped issues, and in the end, carpentry doesn’t even come into it. It’s just used as a cipher for honourable manual labour, but the play is so clumsy there’s no sign of workmanship at all.

**

IF I WERE A CARPENTER, RONDO THEATRE, BATH, WED 4 FEB TO SAT 7 FEB.

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2009. Image from Provocation.