Ten Storey Love Song (4 stars)

Middle Child return to the fringe with a raucous, raw, offering of 'brutalist concrete poetry'

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Ten Storey Love Song

Having established their presence at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with their reputation for formally daring, unashamedly populist, and politically incendiary work, it is in their characteristically raw and noisy spirit that Hull's Middle Child Theatre return with Ten Storey Love Song.

In this latest offering, adapted from the Richard Milward novel by Luke Barnes, Middle Child achieve a curious hybrid between Weekend Rockstars – the show that marked their arrival – and their 2012 staging of Apples, another adaptation of a Milward novel. In Paul Smith's gig-like staging, the taut work of the ensemble is augmented by the electrifying techno of James Orvis and the soaring ethereal vocals of Anna Wilson, with the company summoning a series of off-beat supporting characters including an art-critiquing pigeon, a cocaine-addled art dealer, and the aptly named Monsieur Condom.

The Middlesbrough of Ten Storey Love Song paints a hauntingly familiar landscape: a forgotten relic of Britain's industrial past psychologically dominated by the brutalism of its architecture. It is a city of shuttered shops and pay-day lenders from which drugs and sex provide relief. Middle Child's fascination with a city that cast a vote of 65.5% to leave the EU is undeniably clear, with the show providing a voice to characters almost universally disenfranchised, disconnected, and deeply, deeply lonely.

The focus of the action cycles between five interconnected characters, rendered in visceral detail by the cast from the heights of chemically induced euphoria as lived by Bobby the Artist (Marc Graham) to the depths of existential crises as delivered in Ellen's (Sophie Thompson) searing night of introspection.

Theatrically, Ten Storey Love Song retains the novel's structure, with large portions of the show delivered in monologue and expositional form. The directness of the presentation, however, prevents this from becoming stultifying, with actors firing lines directly at the audience, their voices swelled with amplified noise, and their characters buoyed on hopes for their own redemption.

Even in its bleakest moments, the production still manages to find pathos. In contrast to the fist-lobbing, dick-swinging machismo of Johnnie (Ed Cole), the vitriolic xenophobia of 'Alan Blunt the racist c*nt' (Matthew May), and the envious outburst of begrudging retail assistant Georgie (Annabel Betts), lies a pulsating anxiety of frustrated hopes, unspoken regrets, and frantically derailing trains of thought.

Although the shifts between the different stories means that Ten Storey Love Song's structure becomes irregular, it is pulled together by plot resolutions chasing each other like ripples in a pond.

Pleasance Dome, run ended

Ten Storey Love Song

  • 4 stars

Middle Child Middle Child presents Luke Barnes' adaptation of Richard Milward's cult novel about the tangled lives of the residents of a Middlesbrough tower block. Follow Bobby the Artist's rise to stardom and Georgie's efforts to save him from drug psychosis, Johnnie's attempts to stop thieving and start pleasing…

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