Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff 18th Nov
‘Libraries are the cornerstone my gel! Course they want to shut ‘em, there’s nothing for sale!’ This one line sums up the damning political diatribe at the core of Clara Brennan’s award winning Spine, against the priorities of a government which has lost all sight of the public it supposedly represents. As councils continue to cut funding for libraries, Spine crystallises the indignant, justified anger of many in society against a politics which sees knowledge as only an asset up for sale, and in so doing relegates the many to become ‘life’s losers’.
One of life’s losers is teenager Amy, the ranting, raging and reluctant hero of the piece. After a series of fuck-ups, she seems destined to become one of life’s precariat: her best friend has become a fiend, she’s flunked her A-levels, lost her apprenticeship, started stealing with her boyfriend and now, on top of all that, she’s been kicked out by her ‘people’.
All this leads her to where she speaks to us now, standing in the darkened parlour of Glenda’s house, apparently in front of the silhouettes of generic household clutter. The Glenda she recalls – ‘a shrunken little biddy with shocking died red hair’- is anything but your cosy grandmother type. In fact, she’s turns out to be just as light fingered as Amy.
At this point the studio lights blaze, and reveal all that clutter to be crate upon crate of books. ‘I nicked ‘em’, Amy retells with relish, as it emerges that the books taken by her every time the council shut down yet another library. ’We’re keeping ‘em stored until such a time when they are safe again.
Glenda is looking for a political legacy, and in Amy she finds her opportunity. She’s gets her reading – Latin, a book on pondlife, anything. She wants to harness her rage, to give her a voice, and above all, a spine. ‘You kids wanna be angry than you are; No one to vote for? DIY it, my gel!’
Brennan has frequently been accused of promoting a brand of agitprop theatre, one which parades an affecting brand of politics but offers nothing of any substance. Spine seems to offer a rebuttal to that criticism; instead, agitation is the key to politicisation. Without anger we lose our drive. Without stories, we lack the understanding necessary to empathise with others. No wonder the council would rather burn the books in the night.
It’s a polemic, and a thinly plotted one at that, and it hangs completely on the central performance of Rosie Wyatt as Amy. There is a fine line between monologue and rant, and one which Wyatt steers with a performance that is sensitive to every one of Amy’s jagged edges, her bluster and belligerence, as well as every ounce of humour and vulnerability. It’s a performance which validates all the play’s material, and has you leaving the theatre game for a fight.
Image: Stewart Butterfield/Flickr (free creative commons)