Theatre review: Changing State at Hen & Chickens Theatre

Changing State

Changing State - Credit: Archant

Tian Glasgow’s housing tale is a worth but thin examination of broken Britain, says Marianka Swain.

Eighteen months on, and Ed Miliband is still intoning “Cost of living crisis” in the hope of persuading disillusioned voters that someone at Westminster understands their plight. Yet the gulf between rhetoric and experience seems ever widening, making art that gives voice to the unheard vital at this key political moment.

Unfortunately, writer/director Tian Glasgow can’t decide what that voice should be. Surface-level school assembly docudrama Changing State is a plodding retread of established (if underexplored) issues rather than metaphorical interpretation casting them in a new light. It’s unarguably worthy, but never truly engages.

Glasgow’s piece is peppered with troubling statistics about low-income and ethnic-minority households that, together, demonstrate a vicious, inescapable cycle. His characters aren’t so much people as schematic embodiments of those statistics: Steve (Michael Robinson), the student-turned-drug dealer who dies young; Sarah (Kirsten Moore), falling into the trap of teen pregnancy; Emma (Belinda Fenty), selling out to a phony talent show; and Tyrone (Ashden B. Oke), futilely battling the local council.

The latter thread is most informative, offering an exhaustive demonstration of punishing bureaucracy. Unfit housing means Tyrone’s sister is sick and missing school, but it’s not until he’s caught up in the riots that he’s able to game the system – coming of age here synonymous with cynicism. But resonant ideas like “parentless” youth and Millennials’ mistrust of the future are squandered in cod psychology, stilted dialogue and blunt statements.

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The only bright spots are a couple of promising lyrical monologues and spirited turns from Moore and Oke. “The audience wants to know you,” counsels Emma’s manager, and though we understand the challenges faced by those feeling doubly disenfranchised – by background and by youth – Glasgow’s audience never really gets to know them.

Rating: 2/5

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