Wish List (Royal Court & Manchester Royal Exchange)

 

Winner of the 2015 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting, written by Katherine Soper. Directed by Matthew Xia (Blue/ Orange - Young Vic)

The production is a collaboration between the Royal Court London and the Royal Exchange in Manchester, and is Sophie's second year casting the Bruntwood Prize winner, following Anna Jordan’s YEN in 2015/16.

  

I dreamt about this last night. I dreamt that I was packing boxes in boxes in boxes.

Tamsin packs boxes in a warehouse, on the clock, with a zero-hour contract. Her brother Dean is housebound. Working to obsessive-compulsive rituals of his own.

When Dean is declared fit for work, their benefits are cut. There are phone calls to make, appeals to lodge and endless forms to fill in. Tamsin must pack faster, work harder, and fight to get the support she and her brother so desperately need.

Buy Royal Court tickets for 2017 shows here.

★★★★ The Independent, Paul Taylor:

'Erin Doherty is tremendously moving as Tamsin – pale, bone-weary, sometimes exasperated to tears by her brother, but always able to muster a fragile, reassuring optimism for his sake. She and Joseph Quinn create a completely convincing sense of sibling intimacy, with its own quiet survival strategies (the gentle high fives, say, with which they give each other strength). Dean never feels remotely like a case study in Quinn's meticulous, dignified portrayal of the character's routines for calming his intolerable degree of anxiety. Shaquille Ali-Yebuah is very charming as Luke, her 16-year-old fellow-packer at the warehouse. He’s obliging and can see the funny side of things in a sometimes amusingly gauche way but their friendship (which involves, at one, point, Tamsin giving us her Meat Loaf impression) is touchingly lop-sided. For Luke, the job is a stop-gap before college. Because of the benefit cuts and the urgent need for money, it’s beginning to look as if its all that Tamsin (who is interested in science) can hope for.  

Is it all relative? “Do you think about where your clothes come from? How much that child earned?” asks her work-supervisor (well-played by Aleksandar Mikic) who is himself oppressed by the echelon above and who does his best to be kind. The play feels for him in his saddened resignation. But though it is totally unpreachy, Wish List is not itself resigned. In its clear-eyed look at the interplay between two dehumanising systems, it arouses due political indignation. A heartening debut.'

★★★★ The Financial Times, Ian Shuttleworth:

'Erin Doherty and Joseph Quinn keep tight control of their respective characters’ stresses, never, for instance, overdoing the talismanic patterns of knuckle-raps they execute as a calming tactic. Shaquille Ali-Yebuah offers firm support as a workmate of Tamsin’s and former schoolmate of Dean’s who opens up before her emotional and intellectual possibilities; the core of their tentative relationship is Doherty’s unlikely yet committed rendition of Meat Loaf’s “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)”. Aleksandar Mikic takes care not to let the line manager become simply an impersonal figure with a token humanising sidelight.'

Variety, Matt Trueman:

'[Erin] Doherty is outstanding.. Soper’s [...] characters are well-rounded and that’s catnip for actors. She gives them dignity and strength, and Doherty plays anxiety with admirable restraint. Tamsin’s one of those people whose insecurities show up on the surface, and Doherty finds all manner of tiny fudges — speech defects and fidgets — that must feel much clumsier than they actually appear. Words splutter out of her mouth, and she never seems able to fully catch her breath.'

★★★★ The Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish:

Erin Doherty’s intense, and intensely watchable, Tamsin is a bit of a fumble-fingers, insufficiently robotic to match the panic-making targets set for her, her work-rate flashed on a monitor. This is a world where procedure is king and personality an encumbrance: the canteen lies leagues hence, toilet-breaks are frowned on, and her line-manager (Bosnian actor Aleksandar Mikic) sternly advises her she’s not allowed a phone – which doubles the anxiety-load.

The New York Times, Matt Wolf:

'Some dramas derive their potency from the struggle involved in simply getting through the day. That’s very much the situation in which we find Tamsin (Erin Doherty), the anxious 19-year-old at the capacious heart of “Wish List,” the smashing debut play from Katherine Soper that is running in the Royal Court’s upstairs studio theatre.'

★★★★ 1/2 Time Out, Andrzej Lukowski:

As performed by phenomonal newcomer Erin Doherty, Tamsin is shy, shattered, bright and witty. She left school with minimal qualifications and has now taken up a heartbreakingly awful zero hours job packing boxes for an internet company that sets brutal hourly targets (400 items packed) and has a Kafka-esque sanctions system for perceived slacking. It is awful, and things don’t greatly improve. But what Soper and Doherty show is the hope as well as the despair. Tamsin is crushed by the almost unbearable weight of her situation. Yet when she gets a moment’s slack, the person she could have been (and might still be) surges to the fore – her funny, tentative relationship with co-worker Luke is gentle, but it makes you almost giddy with relief.'

★★★★ The Guardian, Lyn Gardner: 'Lives boxed in by benefit cuts and relentless work':

Katherine Soper’s debut play won the 2015 Bruntwood prize for playwriting and will be heading to the Royal Court in London next year. Deservedly so. It may be conventional in construction and style but its emotional impact, in Matthew Xia’s fine production, is devastating. There were times when I was watching with a clenched stomach and clenched teeth.

There is a compelling, highly detailed central performance from Erin Doherty as the increasingly anxiety-ridden Tamsin, boxed in by her responsibilities, and very nice work from Joseph Quinn as Dean, Aleksandar Mikic as the overseer, and Shaquille Ali-Yebuah as Luke, the temporary worker escaping to college. Luke features in a tender, funny and sad scene involving Meat Loaf’s I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That) that recalls Jim Cartwright’s Road, the enduring 1986 play about dispossessed teenagers in Thatcher’s Britain.

Wish List may not be ground-breaking, but it is a quietly essential and moving play that makes us empathise with the lives of the desperate and the unseen. 

★★★★ The Stage, Roger Foss:

...in Matthew Xia's unfussy beautifully acted production the real impact of Soper’s compassionate, funny, moving but quietly troubling writing resides in its un-preachy underlying ticking time-bomb atmosphere of decent young people struggling against their own powerlessness.

  The acting is exceptional: Erin Doherty delivers a remarkable performance as Tamsin and Joseph Quinn is utterly devastating as Dean facing daily disability meltdown. There’s lovely work too from Shaquille Ali-Yebuah as young friend Luke finding a possible future through college and Aleksandar Mikic as the work supervisor embodying the double-edged cruelty of zero-contract uncertainty.

★★★★1/2 The Reviews Hub, David Cunningham:

Erin Doherty’s superb performance reflects the desperation felt by Tamsin. There is the sense of someone knackered beyond belief and just wishing that her situation could end – for good or bad as long as it is over. This is very much a life lived in quiet desperation. Doherty is so moving in the role that a potentially mawkish sequence, in which Tamsin sings along to a power ballad, draws spontaneous applause.

It is not always easy to sympathise with people who suffer from mental illness, as the symptoms are so subjective they can appear trivial. Joseph Quinn’s anguished performance is so detailed in its observation with meticulously reproduced tics and tapping that this problem is avoided. You simply have to take the condition seriously as it is causing such obvious pain.

Shaquille Ali-Yebuah catches the gauche approach of someone who can cause offence simply by speaking of the options that he has which are not available to someone in Tamsin’s position.

Wish List is a play that demands to be seen and boasts an aching final scene.

whatsonstage.com, Catherine Love:

...What can't be shaken – by either narrative missteps or corporate greed – is the hopeful tenderness of these characters. As delicately and compassionately portrayed by Doherty, careworn Tamsin in particular is all heart. In one of the show's standout scenes, Luke persuades her into a tentatively joyful rendition of Meatloaf's "I'd Do Anything For Love" – a power ballad that's all cheese, but with generous dollops of feeling. It's that unapologetic emotion that feels like the core of the play and, perhaps, the antidote to the unfeeling systems it exposes.

  

  

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