SUSAN DARLINGTON sees a brutally honest depiction of young lives abandoned by society
The Shed Crew at Albion Electric Warehouse, Leeds
BERNARD HARE documented his involvement with a gang of street children in 2005’s Urban Grimshaw And The Shed Crew. Part memoir, part reportage, it offered a brutally honest portrayal of pre-teens who turned to glue sniffing, sex and joy-riding after being abandoned by their parents and then by society.
Now adapted for the stage by Kevin Fegan and Red Ladder, the story has lost none of its emotional power or wide-lens objectivity.
Central to this is the decision to stage the play in a working warehouse, with the audience being invited into the world of the Crew via a series of creaking roller-shutter doors and pumping techno music.
Promenade-style, the action is played out across a number of small stages before it finally moves into the round. Yet with a community cast of 14 and with action continually taking place in and among the audience, it remains a fully immersive experience.
Set on the industrial outskirts of Leeds, the lasting damage of Thatcher’s politics — along with echoes of today’s austerity Britain — are never far away. The safe house that middle-aged former social worker Chop (Jamie Smelt) informally creates fills an educational void for Urban (Adam Foster) and his gang of friends as well as a place for emotional support.
The production transcends pure politics through the strength of the characters, who are portrayed with their imperfections and their vulnerabilities in full view.
Chop may be the closest the gang has to a role model but his own life descends into drug abuse and shoplifting. Urban is likewise an arsonist who expresses childlike joy at being taken into the countryside.
Both actors are utterly believable in their roles. Carrying the emotional weight of the play, they are the fulcrums for this recreation of the Crew’s close-knit community.