STARVED is a grim but compelling play about the devastation that homelessness, poverty, hunger and alcohol can reap on lives barely lived. It’s hard on the eye, offers little hope and is a tale of a vicious cycle that few caught in its spokes can escape. Only an occasional bolt of humour, coursing through the play like the lights that irregularly flash on stage, lightens proceedings. Most welcome.
Based in gritty Hull, the play is built around the fraught relationship between Lass (Alana Connaughton) and Lad, played by Michael Black, also writer of the play. They live in a squalid bedsit in a tower block with few possessions other than a chair, sleeping bag, a filthy mattress, a bottle of vodka and some cuppa soups. Bleak, Dickensian a la Hull 2019 (Oliver, Bill Sykes and Nancy even get name checked by Lad at one stage).
The only way they survive is by Lad stealing a few bits and pieces here and there. Lass is virtually imprisoned in the squat, a result of an incident with her grandmother that resulted in the elderly lady falling down some stairs and her fleeing the scene. She – and for that matter Lad – is convinced that the police are looking for them.
Boredom, grime and drink dominate their lives. One moment they are lovey-dovey, the next they are fighting like cats and dogs. Sex – or the thought of it – hangs in the air, even if Lass is on her period. ‘Are you going to fill this hole?’ she asks at one stage. ‘When’s the last time you gave me a good seeing to?’ Lass is so bored she is also texting some bloke she met on Tinder. Lad ain’t happy when he finds out.
‘Hungry, homeless, horny’ is their mantra. A can of cold Heinz Cream of Tomato soup is considered a luxury – ‘good shit’. They argue about who came from a tougher part of Hull and reminisce about their first meeting on Bridlington beach. They yearn to stop running and face the consequences – ‘we ain’t Bonnie and Clyde’ – but it’s not easy, trapped as they are in their cycle.
Starved, directed by Matt Strachan, is as raw as red meat. An hour long, it should be devoured by those who want to temporarily step outside their middle class London bubble. Fine, sparse writing from Black, complemented by some superb set designing (Esteniah Williams), effective lighting (Aiden Bromley) and pulsating sounds (Nicola Chang).