"gritty, witty upbeat social drama"
by Frank Hill for remotegoat on 12/05/16

When I was a teenager, jobs grew on trees. Not literally, obviously, that would be stupid. But there was an endless supply of quality, well paid work around. The day I left school I visited the youth employment office where I was faced with a huge list of vacancies. I opted for laboratory assistant in a local textile mill because I fancied wearing a white coat. Sorted.

How times have changed - as Beverley Ashworth and her son Adam find out in Michelle Ashton’s play ‘The Stars Are Made of Concrete’ (a Messy Dress production at Oldham Coliseum Theatre, then touring).

Bev had worked as a hospital coordinator for fifteen years, but is suddenly made redundant - a victim of public services cuts (‘sacked’ as she, with typical bluntness, preferred to call it). Adam, in his mid-twenties, has never actually been in full-time employment (‘I’ve only ever done twelve weeks work’). Both were desperate to find jobs, but the system seemed to work against them - forced to complete endless questionnaires, attend inappropriate job fairs, and write dozens of unacknowledged job applications. Adam is philosophical about his position, as it‘s what he has experienced all his adult life. But Bev finds it humiliating, and grows increasingly frustrated and angry. How she copes with a world that she is rapidly losing control of is a major theme of the play.

Adam dates Sinead, and sees a future with her and her seven year old son - but has to contend with Sinead’s ex and his own mother, who is resentful of the relationship. Tempers are raised and long-held resentments come to the fore.

This may seem a dry, depressing subject for a night at the theatre - too much ‘love on the dole’, kitchen sink negativity. But don’t despair, there is much humour here, and (without suggesting there are easy solutions to Bev and Adam’s situation) the play makes it clear that life doesn’t always have to be grim.

Jarreau Benjamin and Zoe Matthews are excellent in the lead roles, as is Leni Murphy as strong willed, down-to-earth Sinead. Joanne Dakin provides light relief as their repressed, frustrated, ’out of touch’ Job Centre liaison officer, more concerned with her mother’s botox than finding jobs for her clients. Ash Baines is strong support as Adam’s free-spirited mate Gaz - happy to drink, party, and invent increasingly bizarre sexual fantasies.

A simple set of three chairs and fold-up table allowed for quick pacing and changes of scene. Mark Simpson’s lighting and sound design were unobtrusive but helped set the mood. Effective use of social media technology allowed Bev and Adam to speak directly to the audience.

The whole production was held tightly together by director Colin Connor.

How these characters cope with life on benefits makes for a gripping, gritty drama full of heart and passion.

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