What a way to start the year, with Katherine Soper’s timely play the Wish List. January is a time when we look to the year ahead; our goals, achievements and aspirations. But a wish list is a luxury brother and sister, Tamsin and Dean, can’t afford.
Life’s really tough for the teenage pair, scraping through day to day on Tamsin’s (Erin Doherty) zero hour’s contract at a packing factory. She’s trying really hard, but this shy girl is preoccupied by the heavy weight of supporting both her and her younger brother, without any parents. Dean (Joseph Quinn) suffers with severe anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder that prevents him from being able to leave the house. As a harsh and unjust result, they fall victim to their benefits being cut.
The world seems an unfriendly place, and the worry is blazoned across Tamsin’s every look. At work, her hours are clocked, boxes counted and targets unmet and all she seeks is a tender soul to reach out. That soul arrives in the form of her co-worker – cheeky scamp Luke (Shaquille Ali-Yebuah). He too packs boxes but doesn’t take life too seriously and draws out something really charming in Tamsin, as the pair belt out a bit of Meat Loaf one boozy night.
Erin Doherty gives a wonderful portrayal as Tamsin, touching and very human. There’s a palpable lump in her throat that never quite disappears and occasionally tips over into tearful outpourings of frustration and desperation. There’s an undeniable chemistry with Quinn, full of sibling affection as she tries to hold it together for him and be supportive. Equally Quinn’s performance is extraordinary and often requires watching through squinted eyes.
Although there’s tragedy at its heart this is by no means a wholly depressing play, heart-warming humour infuses the darkness, which Director Matthew Xia carefully teases out. Soper bagged the Bruntwood Prize for Wish List and it’s not hard to see why. It’s quietly brilliant.
A real testament to her brilliant storytelling, is that her piece is so utterly compelling that you feel moved to help, to want to support and aid this poor family who are pushed to the absolute brink. They suffer at the hands of an unjust system, and it’s simply unfair. Tamsin and Dean are so wonderfully written, with endearing warmth and heart, that their hardship is deeply affecting.
It’s a hard watch, but an essential one. Don’t miss it.
(Photo courtesy of Jonathan Keenan)