3 May 2013

The Life of Stuff at Theatre503 (gripping)

I got nudged in to seeing this by a Hot Tickets offer that did not work (again) but having been alerted to, and tempted by, the play I was quite content to pay full price to see it.

There was the slight problem of having to get up early the next day to go on a holiday that I had not yet packed for but these were mere details, the play came first.

The Life of Stuff is a snapshot of the fringes of the underworld in Edinburgh in the eighties. The action (and there is a lot of it) takes place over just a few hours, it could almost be in real-time, and the cast of characters include hardened criminals, would-be hardened criminals and extreme drug users.

Despite all this it is very funny. And violent too.

This is the story of one of the would-be hardened criminals trying to take the next step up the ladder by removing (i.e. killing) his main rival and taking on his chemistry student who provides the drugs that he sells.

There are two hard men on the new top man's staff, two girls in tow because of the promise of good drugs, and a couple of other people inadvertently caught up in the murder and about to pay the price for it.

Each characters has their own motive and ambitions, even if it is just to get more and better drugs, and that gives each character a separate story.

It is the mix of these character and their stories that gives the play its richness.

Good characters need good actors and The Life of Stuff had them across the board, from the genuine nasty hard man to the silly drug obsessed young woman, from the smooth talking crime lord to the hapless youth tricked in to murder.

Theatre503 is always an intimate space and this time it was more so with some seats on the far side of the stage too. This made it a narrow stage and brought us right up close to the action, more than once I had one of the cast leaning right over me.

The set was simple (pictured) and effective. During the course of the evening it effortlessly became a dance floor, a basement, a penthouse an office and a roof top. Good performances do not need props to carry them.

The various threads in the stories pull together and there is a surprise and dramatic ending. Well, to be honest, I saw the big surprise coming from a mile off but what happened after that is more surprises and the play ends on a very violent note that also has some goodness in it.

The Life of Stuff at Theatre503 is raw, vibrant, small theatre at its best. No wonder the place was packed out.

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