Waterside Arts Centre, Sale
Written by Kim Wiltshire
Directed by Joyce Branagh
This is a very slick looking production. Right from the point at which we are escorted upstairs to the oak panelled conference room by smiling staff clad in Artworks t-shirts this feels like a genuine launch of something – be it an organisation or a new play!
On entering the space I am asked who I am and given an appropriate file enclosing a pertinent question or statement relevant to the production. I am a journalist from The Guardian and have a rather probing question for the man of the moment Mr Vince Hill. The tightly packed rows of corporate chairs, the big screen, the glossy company billboards and the hospitality areas all look very authentic.
The staging effectively takes the audience backstage as observers of the seedy reality behind this glossy launch event but also has us participate front of stage as a theatre audience, and as the participants, business representatives and journalists here for the launch.
As Vince makes his rockstar entrance moving through the audience giving high fives and randomly touching people it all starts to feel a little unpleasant. He is the face of Artworks here to prove that Artworks because Art Works. He is ably supported by his shallow and ruthless companion Michelle who has a skin as thick as the leather on her expensive handbag. Clearly what has started out as a well meaning grassroots projects has been hijacked as a money making vanity project.
We hear from participants of the Artworks scheme who are keen to state they are artists not scallies. We see videos of well wishers including Councillor Smethurst who successfully nominated Artworks for a Pride of Bolton Award. There are short films from an unemployment workshop with interviews from participants. There is a growing sense that the numbers don’t add up and Artworks is not going to eradicate poverty and unemployment.
Moving on to the staged questions from the audience as potential investor businesses and as zealous members of the press, here the action unravels slightly. The Value of Nothing hints at being both site specific and immersive yet although visually this works it felt disappointing being in the audience when statements and questions did not facilitate any further involvement. This stilted the energy and stopped the performance really getting to grips with the political issues it aims to address.
There are some strong performances from Curtis Cole as the real deal Mikey and the always excellent Samantha Siddall as the gritty mum to be who loves Vince but is not fooled by this con masquerading as social enterprise. Their scenes are the most cohesive and Mikey’s verbal annilhilation and actual devouring of the class divided hospitality buffet is inspired.
This is a performance with a genuine social conscience which seeks to address some major issues around unemployment, poverty and the opportunities open to us dependent on social class and education. It certainly provides food for thought – and custard creams.