Another day another review uncovered for Yard Gal.
This time in The Spectator (see below)
It's a provocation and a half and although I'm pleased for the girls, who are justly applauded here, I'm also left mildly fuming at the hijack of the play through such a bigoted analysis. I suppose if any publication was going to give me the rise it's The Spectator - but grrrr! ... the arrogance!!!
There is nothing here to suggest that a life of benefit handouts and liberal sympathy might result in a loss of self-esteem and provoke anger, depression, violence. The message I got from the play was that Boo and Marie deserved better, not more of the same.
Where the review is useful is that it makes a debate and gives the show a burning contemporary relevance. Boo and Marie, undoubtedly have vital lives to lead, but whether the excitement of baseline survival is an optimum state for them and their class is crucially open to question.
Monsay, back in Uni now the show's down, read the review with me. We talked about aspiration and she made the very clear point that she'd never understood the teachers who told her to apply herself or - 'She'd end up working in Tesco!' Most of the kids in her class had parents who worked in low pay jobs, so the advice felt patronising and insulting. Dreams of knights in shining armour were also in short supply on the Tottenham estate where she grew up - the aspiration was to have loads of children rather than a fairy tale wedding; so men, or a specific man, didn't necessarily come into the equation.
For all this, the issue goes deeper than mis-understanding. There is an underclass and they are exploited in our society. Low paid jobs offer subsistance living, but that's fine, because when the struggle becomes too much the rich will always sell them credit.
In terms of creating a genuinely socially mobile society we'll only really make waves if we can create a system of education that offers alternatives and provides mechanisms by which opportunities can be taken. This isn't social engineering - it's cohesion.
Blast of real life
Wednesday, 12th November 2008 Yard Gal - Oval House
Last week I saw a little-known play, Yard Gal, which I’m pretty sure is a classic. Written ten years ago by Rebecca Prichard and revived with scintillating and furious energy by Stef O’Driscoll, the play follows the lives of two drug–whore teenagers, Boo and Marie, living in the badlands of Hackney.
The girls exist in a boozed-up whirl of crappy nightclubs, tainted coke and rough sex with strangers. An early scene gives the flavour. Marie fellates a bent copper in a squad car and when he fails to pay up she exacts revenge with her teeth. ‘Smallest meal I ever ate.’The plot is slender. Boo falls out with a rival gang member, there’s a bust-up, a stabbing and a prison conviction. All fairly predictable. What makes the play special is its political indifference, its assumption not only that the girls’ lives are worth chronicling but that they’re worth living too.
Stephanie di Rubbo and Monsay Whitney inhabit the roles of Boo and Marie with such easy authority, such skin-tight perfection that the play performs that rarest of handsprings and leaps beyond the limits of the theatre and aligns itself with real life.And what a blistering and uneasy light it sheds on our present attitudes to social policy. We have a generation of politicians, social scientists, think-tank wonks and charity hacks all toiling away at a theory of class eugenics which postulates the existence of some mechanism by which the lumpen underclass can be propelled into the ranks of the parmesan-grating bourgeoisie.First, the challenge is bigger than they realise. It’s not about ‘changing the world’, which would be hard enough, it’s about changing human nature, a feat beyond the greatest minds of all time, even those with a 2:2 in sociology. Secondly, the life of the crack–whore in her squat is, to her, not just acceptable but attractive. She has attained a kind of excellence, an insurpassability. No one can sink lower than she has and this gives her a sense of eminence, uniqueness even, in which she’s bound to take pride.
She has proved she can survive conditions most women would find intolerable so she feels battle-hardened, self-reliant and secure. She has no reason to abandon her hard-won criminal expertise or to trade in her life of triumphant adversity for a soft-soap yuppie existence with its merry-go-round of petty demands (setting the alarm-clock, dressing for the office) and its alien index of achievement (graduation certificates, property ownership, romantic fidelity, career status).
What underlies our quest for ‘social mobility’ (code for ‘making chavs eat sushi’) is the assumption that we posh folk have more fulfilling and varied lives than the tower block helots. Not on this evidence. Boo and Marie live lives of Homeric intensity. Every day is a deadly game of chicken played with tainted drugs, psychotic punters, pilled-up pimps and jealous boyfriends. The range and depth of their experiences would leave an Afghan war hero in the shade.After watching this thrilling blast of real life I found myself floating homewards in a euphoric state of wonder and certainty. We should chuck all this social-mobility garbage (which involves posh self-worshipping ghetto-tourists validating their own morality by bribing the underclass to adopt bourgeois gods) and let the crack–whore–chav–scum get on with it.
The problem with being poor is it takes up a lot of your time. The problem with being rich is it takes up a lot of other peoples.