Nottingham Playhouse’s hard-hitting ‘Kings’ depicts the livelihoods of a community of men living in a Nottingham hostel, men so far removed from society that many daren’t leave the confines of Somerville House. The group’s secluded lives are called into question as Wayne (Joe Doherty) plans to move out which awakens troubling ramifications for Kirky (Dominic Grove), the centralised glue of the clique.
Brimming with slapstick humour and the residents’ frequent acknowledgement of terms such as ‘special’ and ‘spastic’, this play jumps erratically from triumph to despair. Moments of optimistic yet fickle highs celebrating the strong bonds made by their common eccentricities were frequently interjected by devastating low points, which included the unexpected mental breakdown of Big Dave (Tim Baggaley), the Falklands trooper, during a civilised dinner – a reference to the vast uncertainly of the ever-increasing struggles of the disabled. The play’s timely response to recent economic cuts in disability spending was addressed with such conviction by the actors, adding a truly authentic feel to the anger which was expressed in response to unfair treatment.
The social depiction of each individual was often stressful to watch. At one point the play insensitively touches on issues of gender and, whilst the audience laughed at the appalling misogynistic sentiments aimed at the only woman actor, I found the exchange particularly uncomfortable. Edging towards the realm of ‘poverty porn’, a concept all too familiar in middle class theatre, the play’s exaggerated account of the working class perpetuates the unfair assumptions associated with the disabled at the forefront of current media depictions. Borderline cliché – the play’s uncomfortable moments of abuse help to reinforce stereotypes rather than bring a refreshing or emancipatory perspective to the theatre.
Nevertheless, ‘Kings’ was executed brilliantly by the disabled actors and impeccable storytelling unfolded with such intensity, doing what theatre should set out to do and reviving life’s sensations. As the play comes to a slow conclusion through the impassioned sing-along to ‘Losing My Religion’ by REM, hope through community spirit and people power leaves the audience with a glimmer of hope for a less unequal society in the future.
Edited by Georgina Varley
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Image Credit: Robert Day