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Hunger @ Arcola Theatre (Play Review) Hunger @ Arcola Theatre (Play Review)
Hunger @ Arcola Theatre (Play Review)

The bright lights and the promise of bountiful gainful employment have always been a lure for the young. In a recent survey, it was estimated that most of the people who left their towns for the city never returned.


Based on the novel by Nobel Prize winner Knut Hamsun ‘Hunger’ tells the story of an unknown down on his luck writer trying to eke out a meagre living selling articles to the local newspapers.


Apart from ta benevolent editor, he has little success. With no money, he soon loses his few friends and it’s not too long before he’s evicted from by generous but much put upon landlady (Jessica Tomlinson). He meets a young lady who he calls Ylayali. He begins to fantasise about her in dream-like sequences.


After finding refuge in a workshop above a derelict stable. We follow him as he wanders the streets, despite hunger slowly driving him to a state of delirium; his is surprisingly acutely aware of the sufferings of those less fortunate than himself and gives away his meagre possessions.


Kwami Odoom is spellbinding destitute writer having to confront some of the harsh realities of adult life, such as despite his unwillingness that work is essential for one’s survival. We watch him crawling across the almost bare stage, philosophising and writing long and never to be press pieces. Slowly but uncomfortably almost magnet-like drawn into his hallucinatory decline and isolation.


His encounter with his ‘Ylayali’ (Katie Eldred), as she entices our hapless to her flat provided the few funny and comedic respites in this otherwise dark story. Even this has a bitter ending. For when our brutally honest writer reveals to her horror his poverty and desolation, she quickly loses interest causing him to launch into a vicious tirade.


Through the inspired direction of Fay Lomas and creative work of movement director: Natasha Harrison, that saw the four actors through speed and motion create the sense of a fast-moving city that further emphasised the writer’s feelings of solitude.


After a series of setbacks, he’s kicked out again by his landlady because of unpaid rent. He receives an anonymous donation which he throws at the landlady before storming out. Broke and desperate he signs up to work on a boat and leaves the city forever.


Writer Amanda Lomas’s bold reimagining of Hunger takes us deep into a mind ravaged by hunger and isolation and warped and the bizarre thoughts and emotions that are likely to result.  True to the original story we see how our writer constantly trying to juxtapose staving off hunger by producing stories he can sell at the using his state of destitution to inspire it.


Although published in 1890 and based on Hansun’s own miserable struggles in the capital city, our writer’s story of the mental decline of a person down to his most basic possessions without any sustainable means of support suffering constant hunger and isolation is as relevant today as it was then.


Hunger Till 21 Dec, Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, London, E8 3DL, Tickets Box Office: 020 7503 1646, Box Office: 020 7503 1646 www.arcolatheatre.com

Picture: Credit – Alex Brenner

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