Since I left the chalkface nearly 15 years ago (15!!) my key pursuits have really revolved around the theatre and the world of financial capability education. Now it’s not often that those two milieux have found themselves directly aligned although there are any number of dramas where problems and issues with money are used as a backdrop to the wider drama. Shylock’s usurious money lending in the Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, the inheritance squabbles of Tennesse Williams’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof or Willy Loman’s enforced redundancy in Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman readily spring to mind. However, these are not specifically front and centre. Not so a relatively new play I saw last week called Deposit by Matt Hartley. Here’s my review:
Matt Hartley is a name unfamiliar to me yet he has a small but growing body of work. Deposit is his play from 2015 and it seemed appropriate to be watching this revival in Stoke Newington which perhaps has more than a passing relationship with those people bracketed as millennials (i.e. born between 1980 and 2000). The problems that particular generation have had with getting (or rather not getting) themselves onto the housing ladder have been well documented and it is clear that funding such purchases is at the bottom of many problems. Indeed, according to online estate agent CBRE “Of those millennials who have moved out (of the parental home), 63% are currently in rented property due to financial circumstances – 75% of those surveyed)”
And so the play finds millennials and long-time partners Rachel and Ben in their tiny one bedroom flat which overlooks the Shard (well, it does if you stand in just the right position at the window and angle yourself just so) struggling to make ends meet. They are doing reasonably well paid responsible jobs in the public sector, saving every penny they can to scape enough together for a deposit on something better. They have the, apparently, bright but illegal idea of moving in friends Mel and Sam for a year. He’s a doctor and she works in advertising so they have a bit more disposable income but are also struggling to save for their joint future. The plan is that Mel and Sam will camp out on the sofa bed in the living room, split the household bills and more importantly share the rent with their hosts, ensuring that all four can save for the futures they earnestly desire.
Of course, it’s never going to be that straightforward. Rachel and Sam are friends from way back and, at first, look forward to flat sharing. However, the tensions soon begin to mount. The incoming couple have to literally live out of suitcases in case of a sudden appearance by the property owner. The walls are paper thin meaning there is little privacy for either pair. Petty arguments about who buys the toilet paper and bathroom rotas break out; these are more reminiscent of student life than that of young professional adults. Ben almost loses it completely when he and Rachel return early from a rare weekend away to find their bedroom being used as “a Chinese laundry”. So the situation provides the necessary dramatic conflict as the friendships are torn apart and nobody seems to be particularly satisfied by the outcomes.
I was quite taken by the highly appropriate set designed by Laurence Tuerk. Instead of walls we had the necessarily paper thin billboards from estate agents and the floor was cleverly laid out as the sort of scheme one might see on an agency spec. The kitchen area seemed a little cramped but was not in play very often so this scarcely mattered – anyway the fact that it was cramped may well have been intentional in showing the rabbit hutch nature of the property. At the back was a video screen ticking off the days on an animated calendar. A nice touch but I wish it had been rather more stable as movement behind the backing curtains caused it to “ripple” repeatedly which was a bit of a distraction. The lighting of Alan Wilkinson was a good complement to the design and Sheila Burbidge’s costumes caught the mood of the age very well.
The four actors had a strong command of the material and performed their roles with conviction and a great degree of empathy – though I sincerely hope none of them find themselves in the situation within the play. Chloe Ledger as Rachel was a convincing central character, at first trying to keep the peace but gradually coming to realise that it was every woman for herself. Ultimately she revealed a calculating even ruthless streak to her character and although I wasn’t totally convinced by the writing here, Ledger made a more than creditable job of the change in persona. As her rather more flighty and extrovert best friend Mel, Sims Witherspoon was a good contrast yet at the same time it was easy to believe the two young women had been good friends. Her partner Sam, played by Iskander Javid making his Tower debut, was a nice study in passive-aggressiveness. The most impressive of the four was Adam Hampton-Matthews who graduated his character Ben from an almost naïve everyman type to someone far more hardnosed as life (and his friends) repeatedly seemed to let him down. In one particular speech towards the end of the first half all of Ben’s frustrations came bubbling through in a Meldrewesque stream of complaints and this was masterfully done – perhaps turning 30 (unthinkable!) marked the end of the age of innocence.
The quartet of players was well drilled under the expert eyes of director Martin Mulgrew and stage manager Alison Liney and her team. The many transitions in time were very competently handled and the piece as a whole flowed well. That said I felt the end of the first half didn’t really build to anything. Later I discovered that the original play was meant to be played straight through so perhaps that was why – though I think 2 hours would have been a very long sit indeed so breaking the action was undoubtedly the correct call.
The play itself had many merits and deserved its revival. However, I think the company had rather a hard sell on its hands as the audience at the performance I saw (self included) was largely outside the age range and thus the experience of the generation under this particular microscope. I felt that although I could sympathise I couldn’t really empathise and I hope that the rest of the run draws in a slightly younger age range who will appreciate more fully the many nuances the piece contains. Originally the choice of Penny Tuerk, the play was performed as a fitting tribute to the memory of one who gave Tower Theatre unstintingly of her time and talents – I think she would have been pleased with the end result.
Now, of course, financial capability is more than just about saving and purchasing property but as the biggest acquisition most people will make in a lifetime it is a very important part of living in the modern world. There has been an ongoing debate for as long as I have been working in the field about students and pupils being giving comprehensive lessons in dealing with their finances when entering adulthood. Nobody I have ever spoken with has ever suggested that this would be anything other than a good thing – indeed the vast majority always tell me “I wish I’d been taught that when I was at school” And yet somehow it still hasn’t happened and a play like Deposit is on one level a stark warning about what is happening to our younger people. So let me finish this post with a call to arms – let’s get financial capability firmly onto the education curriculum for all and if you’re an educator/school governor/ parent reading this and would like to know more then please look at the work of organisations like Young Enterprise/Young Money and the Money Charity who can really help.