Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Mixed Up North - The Curve, Leicester

Mixed Up North
Writer: Robin Soans
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Reviewer: David Noble

The ambiguously titled Mixed Up North is Robin Soans’s attempt to shed light on how Burnley has recovered from the infamous riots of 2001. Soans highlights the plethora of problems facing the town, ranging from the grooming of children to attitudes towards arranged marriages, through the medium of a verbatim play. This style, according to the programme, allows one to look at “a wide range of view points, without needing to find a specific ‘angle’”. This approach allowed varied opinions on what is a fractious topic, yet although it enabled the audience to gain a perspective on the problems facing Burnley, the validity and non-representation of certain outlooks left you confused as to the purpose of the play.

The plot was fundamentally a means to allow each character to have their say on whatever social issue had affected them, and this was deliberately transparent. It entailed the preparation for a play in a government funded youth group, and the various hiccupps faced on the eve of the production. This was understandably stereotypical, but this would go unnoticed if plot quality were substituted for thought-provoking ideas and challenging dialogue.

Unfortunately, there was the real impression that Mixed Up North was primarily a hotchpotch of views and stories that had been garnered from across Burnley, thrown together simply to assemble a range of opinions. It quite frankly did not gel. One minute a character would be describing a rape, the next someone would be describing how the heart and soul had been ripped out of Burnley due to the closure of the mills. There were some extremely harrowing tales which could have been the basis of the play, yet upon completion these were shrugged off with a one-liner and the consequences of which were not mentioned again. The piece also ignored any representation from the BNP, a presence which would surely have complimented a verbatim style. There was a real inconsistency at the heart of the script.

Which leads me to say that the acting itself could not faulted. The actors were outstanding, and in particular Asif Khan (playing the deliciously deadpan role of Aftab) gave a magnificently visual performance. Also credit should go to debutant Judith Amsenga, as youth leader Trish, who portrayed the part of a burdened Christian youth worker without resorting to stereotype!

Likewise, the set, which was designed in mock studio-audience fashion by Jonathan Fensom, suited the production perfectly. It gave a real feeling that you were in the midst of Question Time, becoming increasingly disgruntled at the views you disagreed with, and leaving you privately gleaming at the views that showed any sign of rationality.

However, Mixed Up North was ultimately a frustrating experience. The issues discussed are massively important, yet there was no plain outcome to be drawn from the events of the play. It lacked the final moment of clarity that it so desperately needed. I felt myself crying out for the final universal stance on how to resolve the problems in Burnley. Yet the audience was left with a collection of sorry diatribes that barely related to each other and that seemingly had no solution. Thus I found myself pondering the point of the play rather than considering resolutions to the pressing themes of the performance, which would have been far more rewarding.

Photos: Ian Tilton
Mixed Up North runs until Sat 10th Oct.
frontpage hit counter