Salford Arts Theatre; Thursday 18th October, 2018
Outside the corner shop where he works on a proper rough-arse estate in North Manchester, Mark meets up with his mate Nathan during a fag break. Nathan doesn’t work, he doesn’t seem to do anything at all in any way, but he’s always knocking around whenever Mark pops out for a cigarette. It soon becomes clear why: a certain young lady called Ashley who works in the nearby Greggs.
Sunrise for the Blind is a tough, grinding piece of theatre that depicts the drudgery and desperation of life a long, long way below the poverty line. Written by Mancunian writer and performer Lee Lomas (who also stars in the role of Nathan), this is a show that delivers as realistic and convincing a portrayal of abject poverty as anything else you’re likely to see on stage.
Because aside from the obvious visual prompts provided by the sight of litter thrown around the streets and the grimey old shop front that isn’t going to invite anyone in, what Sunrise for the Blind gets across brilliantly well is the impact of poverty on people – how they try to hide it in small ways; how they always try to explain it away in order to save face; and how it so forcefully drives their day-to-day behaviour without them even realising it.
It’s not often that smells can evoke a very particular sense of atmosphere in a performing space but with a set of characters who spend the entire show chain-smoking, that’s exactly what happens here. Add in a no-holds-barred script where any foul language goes, as well as the standard uniform of the council estate – black trainers, grey jogging bottoms, hooded top, baseball cap – and what’s presented on stage could literally be any genuine youths taken straight off the streets of Salford and thrust in front of the audience.
The banter of the streets is punchy and fast-paced, coming across as improvised and genuine, rather than something that’s been carefully scripted. Standing out clearly during the show are the arrogant and brash (though ultimately futile) attempts to defy the numbing hopelessness of being caught in a poverty trap; those who have a job just get on with it, those that don’t end up festering on any triviality that they can seize upon: who’s been fucking who, who’s been chatting shit about someone, who’s got a spare cigarette, and why won’t Nathan just go and buy a decent lighter that actually fucking works? He can afford to buy a lighter can’t he?
Story-wise, the plot slowly introduces a set of characters centred around Nathan’s pursuit of the elusive Ashley who works in Greggs, as well as Mark’s ever-growing desire to get himself out of his mundane existence and off to university.
But poverty isn’t the only menace lurking in the shadows – when Ashley’s older brother Johnny The Bastard finds out that a local no-hoper is after his sister he wastes no time in intervening, nor does he hesitate in making sure that his views on who’s running the corner shop are known and understood, much to the anger of Mark, who seems to have a slightly more than professional attachment to his employer.
The cast of seven deliver outstanding performances, both individually and collectively. Each character stands out and individual personalities and behavioural traits come though so clearly – the show’s running time is less than two hours yet the audience is left feeling that these are perhaps characters from a soap opera that has been running for years.
Sunrise for the Blind is a refreshingly genuine and believable portrayal of life for a cohort of society that just doesn’t normally get a fair look-in in theatre world – firstly because non-romantic poverty is not exactly a glamorous subject for a play and secondly because most performers fail to capture the sense of simmering but politely controlled fury that poverty instills in those who are trapped in it.
But with Sunrise for the Blind that’s not the case. With a cleverly written plot that introduces a pseudo-whodunnit mystery that persists slowly and builds tantalisingly before culminating in an unexpected twist, this is a show that tells a modern-day story of very modern-day problems in an altogether new and at times shocking way. This might be no-frills theatre, but in this instance it’s absolutely on point.