Muck – Park Theater, London

Writers: Joseph Connolly and Gabriella Padula

Director: Toby Clarke

There’s something weirdly Rosencrantz and Guildensterny about Muck, which seems wildly unlikely given that it’s decidedly un-Shakespearian, both in plot and setting: A brother returns to the estate where he grew up for his nan’s funeral. But, as his sister reminds him repeatedly, he’s not to leave the flat unnecessarily in case he bumps into one of the lads who forced him to run away in the first place. Instead, he spends his time watching his sister do a bunch of coke while he tries to save her from imminent eviction.

There’s a lot packed in to this hour-long show, but the audience is only really privy to the befores and afters: before and after the funeral, before and after the sister’s job interview, before and after the brother is beaten up and so on .

It’s this exposition-heavy narrative that makes it feel like we’re watching characters usually relegated to the side-lines (as in Rosencrantz et al). It’s frustrating, given that there’s certainly enough happening in the plot, but we’m just not invited to see any of it. But with the unnerving introduction of a third character who ‘lets himself in’ towards the end, there’s a sense that writers Joseph Connolly and Gabriella Padula know exactly what they’re doing, aggressively shutting out the outside world for as long as possible, until it starts seeping in against their will, and the flat loses its status as a safe house.

Connolly and Padula, also playing the protagonists, have created demoralizingly realistic characters, grossly honest but just about likeable. The audience often finds themselves laughing hard at the siblings’ piteousness, only for them to slowly realize there’s nothing funny about it. It would be great to see the characters fleshed out a little more, perhaps stretching to a full two-hour show, to give some room for more detail and contemplative conversation.

Victims of a system that will not allow them to ever really escape, Muck is ultimately a deeply tragic story, with just enough hope tingeing the edges to give the illusion of a very dark comedy.

Runs until 14 May 2022

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