Skyline, Ugly Duck

rsz_278df7cf00000578-3032452-image-m-8_1429115791409It’s panto season, and our stages are filled with villains, heroes and dames. Playwright David Bottomley’s new work-in-progress has some passing resemblance to the characters in Britain’s traditional seasonal offerings, but his new play on the London housing crisis is darker, angering fare. Capturing its victims’ lack of power and its perpetuators’ greed, Skyline doesn’t offer a solution but still states a clear opinion on the issue. With a cast of five playing seven characters, the audience sees a microcosmic cross section of social classes who, with poetic and pointed language, are a powerful reminder of the importance of secure housing. There is still some work to be done on the script, but the staged reading in conjunction with a pre-show talk and an exhibition by Alternative Press makes a powerful point that something needs to change to prevent social cleaning through housing policy in London.

Bottomley has a clear gift with words. There’s a subtle poetry that effectively captures his characters’ feelings, laying them exposed and raw for the taking. There could be more differentiation between their rhythms and word choices, though. Drag queen Roxanne’s (Paul L. Martin) closing monologue is similar to that of unemployed single dad and grandfather from Africa, Rex (Kevin Golding). His 28-year-old daughter Tanya occasionally sounds like her Tory MP Francesca (Karen Hill). He does well to go against stereotypes, but there’s a middle ground between them and homogenisation that hasn’t been completely reached yet.

His most complex character is Francesca. Despite being a Tory who’s having an affair with villainous property developer Jasper (Cameron Robertson), the favours she grants him directly conflict with her instinct to do right by her constituents, and values the old London that Jasper desperately wants to demolish. Her dialogue is occasionally overwritten, but she otherwise feels like a real, well-rounded individual. Jasper does as well, though not to the same extent. He could perhaps do with a touch more humanity to make him less cartoonish, even though there must be people out there as horrible as he is. Rex’s inner anguish erupts in balance to the calmer Tanya, who satisfyingly shows her true feelings in Francesca’s surgery. An interesting experiment would be to explore further integration of these characters: what if Rex and Jasper meet? Tanya and Roxanne? There’s space for more scenes without the play feeling too long.

Skyline has plenty of excellent moments, like the only scene between Jasper and Roxanne (a colourful character that’s underused) that shows how truly horrible Jasper is, and Roxanne’s need for a place she can put down roots. Rex’s desperation and Tanya’s resignation come to a head in a climactic final scene, just after Francesca and Jasper do the same. Even though there’s resolution, Bottomley skilfully alludes to the wider landscape and the struggles countless Londoners face due to the housing crisis in these final scenes. Roxanne’s gorgeous monologue that serves as an epilogue underlines the entire play, but dilutes the power in Tanya and Rex’s scene. It would work well earlier, maybe in the scene between her and Jasper.

Though Skyline is still in its development stage, it is remarkably polished and well-structured. A good cast own Bottomley’s rich language and the call for change is clear but not preachy. Some gentle development will whip this story into an even more powerful piece of political theatre.

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