“WE’RE all in this together,” cries Peter James, leader of the Beige Party as he proclaims his meaningless manifesto to the audience on the opening night of Johnny Come Lately at the Unity Theatre. Peter and his party are a prop from which to launch into this dark comedy.
Devised by Manchester theatre company Coal, the play gives us a glaring glimpse into the lives of two unfortunates, mother and daughter Maureen and Elaine, played breathlessly by Erika Poole and Annie Fitzmaurice.
These two skitter onto the stage, as if from one of the many holes in their bug-infested flat. They are grotesques, who spend their time conning and stealing from all they meet.
Director John Wright and designer Lois Maskell shine a bleak light on their world, the set filled with cracks, a literal image of Broken Britain.
Mother and daughter are locked in a twisted co-dependence, until Egyptian immigrant Emad lodges with them.
Brought to life through a muscular performance from Amr El-Bayoumi, Emad speaks no English, except for “Please” and “Thank you”, yet his peaceful nature and thoughtful manner manage to speak to Elaine and help to exorcise some of the demons her mother shackles her with.
Throughout, light relief is provided by lanky actor Sam Parks, mopping up the rest of the roles as Peter James, a mugger, a pest controller and, quite hilariously, elderly neighbour Pat.
Like challenging theatre should, it leaves the audience uncomfortable, asking questions of themselves and the play. It doesn’t offer up all the answers, except perhaps that a simple act of honest communication can scythe through all the bluster and the beige.