Hunger At The Arcola Theatre Nibbles At The Soul
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London is a tough place to make it as an artist. This is made abundantly clear in a new adaptation of Nobel Prize-winning fascist sympathiser Knut Hamsun's novel of the same name.
Brought to the stage by mother/daughter team adapter Amanda Lomas and director Fay Lomas, Hunger is the struggle of the nameless starving artist (Kwami Odoom), a writer whose descent into destitution and delirium has the slow slide of the inevitable.
The setting of this production outside of any specific time or place speaks to the universality of suffering and unfeelingness; Amanda Lomas' script is stark and doesn't often indulge in the poetic.
The trend of taking a story over a century old and asserting that its themes are still relevant now can sometimes feel like a bit of a stretch — Hunger bucks that trend. Rather, this play staged at this time depicts the eternal fallacy of the 'bootstrap' mentality.
Without familial help, it is nigh on impossible, even now to make your way as an artist in any big city. Talent, resilience and sheer hard graft just won't cut it if you don't have financial support. In London in particular, we are surrounded by so much suffering that it has become quotidian and all too easy to ignore.
As the play progresses, it appears to be increasingly set inside the writer's splintering psyche. Simple but evocative staging, combined with frenetic movement sequences and tight audio-visuals complete the effect. The small cast deftly portray an array of characters (each one apparent with a different regional accent) — Jessica Tomlinson's range and versatility is especially impressive.
As the writer's ravenousness for success and for nourishment grapple to consume him, as he rails and curses at a god he doesn't believe in, such desperation is uncomfortable to watch. Yet this is pertinent and accomplished piece: a timely reminder of the darkness that lurks around the edges of our society and threatens to swallow any one of us.
Hunger, Arcola Theatre, Ashwin Street, E8 3DL, £15-£22. 20 November-21 December
Last Updated 26 November 2019