Skint (Review – Online)

Skint (Review – Online)

There was a point during the pandemic when the only dramatic output which seemed to emerge online invariably took the form of a monologue. So ubiquitous did they become that at one stage I deliberately avoided the form for a fortnight just in order to refresh the brain cells. But there were, undoubtedly, some stunning masterpieces of the form such as Philip Ridleys’s The Poltergeist. Then there was the excellent reboot of Alan Bennet’s Talking Heads from the BBC. In much the same vein, now that the pandemic is over (or at least that’s the government’s story and they’re sticking to it), comes Skint.

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It’s either extremely careful planning by the BBC or sheer serendipity that these monologues about being on the breadline are being shown just as the cost of living has taken the sharpest rise in living memory and tipped many into the poverty trap. Whatever the case here are many of the factors that will (war aside) be dominating our news for the foreseeable future: homelessness, foodbanks, zero hours contracts all feature heavily. And if this makes the whole enterprise sound dour and rather worthy then be assured that there is plenty of mordant humour on display which keep these fifteen minute pieces eminently watchable. They don’t all work quite as well as they should but there are one or two which sit comfortably within the monologue genre as examples of best practice.

The series gets off to a fine start with I’d Like To Speak To The Manager, Lisa McGee’s neat little revenge vignette. Saoirse-Monica Jackson plays Tara, a somewhat manic young woman who decides she’s not going to take it anymore – or does she? The neat twist at the end demonstrates how desperate those in poorly paid jobs may be in order to keep them. The tale of Jambo (Michael Socha) in Byron Vincent’s No Grasses No Nonces is a little more predictable as he rattles around in his local pub speaking aloud but being ignored by all. His past troubles have led to a situation of present difficulty but without relevant support systems in place it is little wonder that he has ended up where he is. Young mother Hannah (Emma Fryer), Shane and their baby are also facing a bleak time having suddenly found themselves homeless after an altercation over something totally trivial but, at the same time, laced with significance. Kerry Hudson’s moving piece is set against the backdrop of a bright day by the seaside but there’s little sunshine which will enter these character’s lives.

The most puzzling and least successful piece is Gabriel Gbadamosi’s Regeneration which seems to be exploring the old joke about “why is life like a mushroom?” – A: Because you’re kept in the dark most of the time and shit is heaped on you. Gary Beadle plays market trader Gary in a bewildering piece which is heavy on metaphors but less clear on what it is trying to say – something about modern housing developments spreading like fungus as far as I can tell. At least this character has a paying job which is more than can be said for sixteen year old Mia (Isis Hainsworth) in Heart Of Glass by Jenni Fagan. She also doesn’t have a home having left the care system behind her. Hainsworth’s scream of raw pain at the end of the piece which will stay in the memory as a potent reminder of how desperate she and others like her can be.

I felt that the series saved the best two pieces for last, especially James Price’s The Taking of Balgrayhill Street which found humour in the most unpromising subject of food poverty. The excellent Peter Mullan plays Donny who is left with a moral dilemma about whether he should or shouldn’t use a food bank to supply the curry sauce he’d like to have with his chips. Pride can be both a noble and undermining trait and Mullan’s performance demonstrates how both things can be true at once. The series finishes with Rachel Trezise’s Unicorn in which Tasha (Tamara Brabon) finds herself the recipient of a windfall – unfortunately, it’s not really hers and it causes more problems than it solves. Brabon draws us into her character’s moral dilemma and leaves us asking what we would do in the same situation.

The settings of the seven pieces range across all areas of the UK demonstrating that being “skint” is a universal problem affecting town and countryside alike, indeed it personally affected some of the monologue writers.  While the overall title of the series clearly refers to a lack of pounds and pence it also emphasises the scarcity of meaningful support systems that exist. These monologues do not suggest solutions but then, that isn’t their job. They do however raise awareness at this critical time. Let’s hope that the Chancellor will be watching …. or is he too busy creating ridiculous symbolic and contrived photo opportunities at petrol stations?

Skint is available on BBC iPlayer – click here

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