Union at Arcola Theatre
Max Wilkinson’s Union bursts with energy; it’s a paean to London, delivering a comic and fast-paced plot that rarely comes to rest. In this sense it’s not dissimilar from Wilkinson’s previous play, Rainer, although this one has a tighter focus in its 80-minute runtime. The central theme is gentrification and how it affects London’s inhabitants, told from the perspective of young property developer Saskia (Dominique Tipper), who is on the verge of signing the biggest deal of her life.
Despite her role in the undoing of her fellow Londoners’ livelihoods, she is plagued by guilt, both about what she is doing and due to a troubled past. Saskia is a tough role to play, with many different flavours to the character as she attempts to convince everyone around her that she is a powerful businesswoman, while on the inside, she is beginning to crumble. Tipper is fantastic as the lead, managing to capture the range of emotions while also maintaining an intense pace throughout and handling quieter moments with care.
She is joined by Sorcha Kennedy and Andre Bullock, who both star as a variety of characters, ranging from Saskia’s mother, current boyfriend Leon and previous boyfriend Chris Hutton, to her current boss, Fraser. Effective costumes by Kit Hinchcliffe serve well to distinguish clearly between them, and the rest is done with more than capable acting. Kennedy and Bullock show immense ability in the way they seamlessly switch from role to role.
It’s a play that successfully makes its point, and while the position is arguably somewhat one-sided (developers are dogmatically demonised while the hypocrisy of certain demonstrators is merely glanced over) it does present a valid and wide-ranging picture of the changes that occur through gentrification and the seemingly unstoppable odds that locals face when trying to fight it. It’s an important theme to tackle and, tied together with an engaging character-driven story, makes for strong theatre.
Wiebke Green’s directing is suitably minimalist: aside from the diverse costumes, there are few props or sets. Atmosphere is created largely through Julian Starr’s sound design and Martha Godfrey’s lighting, both of which are robust, leading to an experience that is worthy of a recommendation.
Union is at Arcola Theatre from 19th July until 12th August 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the production here: