Still Night Theatre Company’s Trapped Under Class focuses on a family whose lives become progressively poorer – both financially and in quality – over the course of a year. New Year’s Eve sees siblings Sophie, Molly and Aiden, together with their friend Emma and Aiden’s girlfriend Charlotte, celebrating excitedly over vodka shots; all brought to a sudden end by the death of their mother. There isn’t a lot of money coming in to the household, but they hold up their heads high, with Sophie earning reasonably well, and Charlotte contributing her income; Molly’s on benefits which help a little. But the dreaded Universal Credit kicks in; Molly’s money is reduced, Sophie’s hours are cut; and with the news that there’s a little one on the way, tensions flare as they just don’t know how they’re going to cope. Where will they all be by the next New Year’s Eve?
The cast work together as an ensemble extremely well, giving a very credible sense of a family full of characters, each with their own backstory, and each with their own individual relationships with the rest of the group. I loved the playful (sometimes not quite so playful) antagonism between Aiden and Molly, how Sophie automatically took charge as the new “mother” of the family, and the way that the non-family members were welcomed, or tolerated, or not, by the others. The petty squabbles, the insecurities and the jealousies were all accurately portrayed; as were the way they made up with each other with gentle teasing and, despite all odds, framing the entire group, a strong sense of dignity.
Katie Glenn is outstanding as Sophie, taking over the responsibility for everyone else’s wellbeing; showing generosity where she can, doing whatever it takes to keep a roof over everyone’s heads by taking on that job that Paula suggested – we had guessed what it might entail. The final scene of her changing into her working clothes was heartbreaking. She has a strong, natural authority on stage and conveyed the warmth, integrity and agonies of her character with total conviction.
Abi Cameron is also excellent as the hard-working, no nonsense Emma; frustrated when the budget planning goes awry, impatient with those who don’t pull their weight, secretive when the others ask her how a date went. Fiona Moreland-Belle gives a strong performance as the vulnerable Molly, edging towards depression as she spends all day on the sofa and doesn’t wash, needing Sophie’s support to try and go out there and tout for jobs. The boiling-up of violence between the two characters is shocking to watch but highly convincing and beautifully (if that’s the right word) performed. It’s a graphic representation of how poverty can destroy relationships.
Harry Oliver and Amber King work together extremely well as the team-within-a-team of Aiden and Charlotte, he as the spoilt youngest member of the family, she as the outsider moving in, trying to keep his excesses in check whilst still clearly loving him. The scene of them in the supermarket – with Charlotte’s business-like focus on the job in hand, and Aiden’s sneaking the ice-cream in the trolley whilst refusing to look for ham – encapsulated their two very different personalities; but opposites attract, as they show.
My only criticism of the play is that there is a long scene of silence after the mother’s funeral that, I felt, simply goes on too long. The cast convince us of how their characters are stunned into silence, but I longed for one of them to pick up a magazine and then cast it away, or try to be distracted by their phone, or something like that; we need something to increase our understanding of how the individual characters have been affected by the death.
But that’s a very small quibble. This is a very convincing and moving portrayal of a family in a declining crisis. There’s a tiny shred of optimism at the end, but you suspect, sadly, that the only way is down. Very strong performances and a thought-provoking play. Great stuff!