09 February 2017
States of the nation Premium
Becoming popular after the Second World War, the so-called “State of England” play summed up political and social tensions through a suggestive setting: a music hall in John Osborne’s The Entertainer, a cabin cruiser in Alan Ayckbourn’s Way Upstream, a battered caravan in Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem.
The genre has become tougher to write since recent elections and the European Union referendum exposed a division between two Englands: rich and poor, urban and rural, index-linked pensions and capped benefits, remain and reclaim. Two young dramatists, though, have put on stage a slice of English life that represents the wider pie.
Wish List – which won Katherine Soper the Manchester Royal Exchange’s 2015 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting – shuttles between a low-rent flat in Milton Keynes and the massive packaging warehouse of an online corporation. Nineteen-year-old Tamsin has been hired at the factory on a day-by-day basis to fill cardboard boxes, but struggles to reach her target of 400 an hour, due to severe cardboard cuts and a lack of Amazonian stature. She incurs penalty points for slowness, and also for extending the short daily break to phone home to check on her brother Dean, who cannot work due to mental-health issues that include obsessive compulsive disorder.
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