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'Gizza job. Go on, gizza job'. I can do that.

Review: 'Boys from the Blackstuff'

A powerful new adaptation for the stage of Alan Bleasdale’s ‘Boys from the Blackstuff’ will resonate with audiences as much as the landmark 1982 TV show.

The issues may have changed, from the industrial decline and mass unemployment of the 1980s to the current cost-of-living crisis, but the working-class struggle to pay the bills and put food on the table is as relevant today as it was four decades ago.

Playwright James Graham has stayed true to the original Bleasdale drama, focussing on the utter despair and sense of hopelessness of a group of male Liverpudlian labourers, who as the play begins have already lost their jobs laying tarmac (‘the blackstuff’).

At its heart is a story about men’s masculinity, dignity and pride being eroded away by changes in society that they can’t control and that is leaving them without purpose or a future.

Chrissie (Nathan McMullen), Loggo (Aron Julius), George (Philip Whitchurch), Dixie (Mark Womack) and Yosser (Barry Sloane) are used to hard work and providing for their families. But there is no work and there is no money. What are they supposed to do? Work harder, work longer, buy cheaper, spend less? They just need a chance.

They are on the dole, unable to find legitimate work, though they are all proud men and desperate to get back to employment, to take any job. Indeed, the original show’s iconic catchphrase ‘Gizza job. Go on, gizza job’, is used throughout the production by the increasingly desperate and unstable Yosser (pictured above) as he struggles to keep it together.

Sloane’s intense portrayal of a man completely at the end of his tether, battling the mental demons of failure and the shame of being unable to provide for his family, is outstanding.

The play does have its funny moments. Helen Carter is brilliant as Dixie’s loyal wife, who has made a little cash in hand by delivering leaflets and tries to avoid a house call from the ‘sniffers’ (Department of Employment investigators) by crawling between the front and back door of her home.

Amy Jane Cook’s industrial set captures the environment of austerity, with clever touches such as the dole office queue, which add significantly to this compelling drama.

‘Boys from the Blackstuff’ is at London’s Garrick Theatre until August 3, with an Audio Described Performance on July 18 (7.30pm), Captioned Performance on July 31 (7.30pm) and British Sign Language Performance on July 20 (7.30pm).

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