Review: Wish List, Royal Court ‘A Quietly Powerful Play on Britain Today’

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Well, I adored Wish List, I really did. What a heartfelt and moving play about a young woman battling the cruelty and injustices of modern Britain.

We follow nineteen-year-old Tamsin (portrayed superbly by Erin Doherty btw), the sole carer to her younger brother Dean (the also-excellent Joseph Quinn) who juggles her responsibilities to look after and look out for her brother, who is unable to work or even leave the house for extended periods of time due to crippling OCD rituals and anxiety, and earning what little she can in a menial packing job with its insecure zero hours’ contract.

And even that is a bad set-up for her as the factory packing job owns Tamsin like a commodity – unrealistic targets, timed breaks, confiscated mobile phones – all of which makes it almost impossible for her to check in with her brother throughout the day to make sure that he’s eating, that he’s OK – that he’s safe.

But Tamsin has few options – her own dreams and plans cut short with the early loss of her mother. There’s no support structure for her, no parents or family to fall back on. Instead, at a young age, all of Tamsin’s hopes were dashed, her plans for college and further education abandoned, and she became saddled with responsibilities well before her time.

Your heart aches just at the set up, but when Social Security threatens to withdraw what small benefits they give her, believing her brother is fit to work, Tamsin’s delicate balance is forced to breaking point.

Katherine Soper won the Bruntwood Prize for Wish List, and understandably so. There’s a quiet power to this deceptively small story and it is beautifully crafted. We feel such anguish for Tamsin as she is stretched so thin by a state and society that is bereft of compassion and the desire to help, then our hearts are lifted by her fleeting moments of joy and hope, only of course to have them devastated with a climax that was so gut-wrenching I actually had to momentarily look away as you fear what you know is coming.

For a play with a central message that is so sobering, there are moments of real humour and levity, beautifully brought out by Director Matthew Xia. This is a production with such humanity that there is no sense that this is a worthy production that has to be endured; it is one that sweeps you up.

I would love desperately to say that this play is powerful enough to change your politics but I fear, in Brexit Britain, this is shouting into a well-defined echo chamber. What I would give for this play to be performed to as wide an audience as possible. Nevertheless, if you can get to Royal Court to see this, do. It’s a terrific production.

Royal Court Theatre, London to February 11, 2017

All production images by Johnathan Keenan.

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