Late last year we reviewed the final performance of Wish List at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre - an award winning play by new playwright Katherine Soper. The production, which credits Turn2us for providing background for some of the issues raised in the play, will transfer to the Royal Court in London from 10th January – 11th February. For more information, or to book tickets, visit the Royal Court Theatre website.
The play opens in the home of Tamsin and her brother Dean, two teenagers trying make ends meet after the death of their mother. The plot follows their journey as the two try to negotiate a welfare benefits system that seems stacked against them, whilst Tamsin learns the reality of working on a zero-hours contract in a packaging warehouse.
This fast paced performance under direction of acclaimed director Matthew Xia aptly highlights the harsh reality of accessing support, not least for Dean who suffers from acute obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) that renders him housebound.
The combination of mental health problems and poverty are all too real in the UK. Last year, as part of our #NoColdHomes campaign, Turn2us revealed that 22% of those struggling to pay for their heating felt that this created stress or exacerbated existing mental health problems. This play demonstrates the impact of such circumstances with brutal honesty.
Soper’s writing explores the assault course of problems awaiting the brother and sister as they try and complete Dean’s Employment and Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payment applications. In a heart-breaking scene,Tamsin reads in disbelief a medical assessment that suggests her brother is fit for work as he has no physical disability, despite his mental health condition rendering the most straightforward tasks impossible.
The play also follows Tamsin as she embarks on a career packing boxes, with a not so accidental hint at some of the working conditions highlighted in the media recently. Comparisons can also easily be made between the humane yet relentless warehouse supervisor with a constant list of demands and targets and the remote and impersonal appeals process that Dean attempts and fails to contend with in order to claim the support that he needs.
The play portrays an accurate reflection of the intricacies of the welfare benefits system whilst not appearing didactic or preachy. Indeed, Soper even acknowledges Turn2us in the text. She used our tools and information to reference some of the specific terms and processes that the characters needed to negotiate within the play.
Wish List is both important and timely, and won the prestigious Bruntwood Prize last year. It has been described by acclaimed theatre director Sir Nicholas Hytner as having, “…such eloquence, such quiet craft, such dignity and such compassion". Its run in London’s historic Royal Court next January will ensure that the work receives an even higher profile.
This work gives real insight into the pressures and worries of those out of work, or in-work but living in poverty. It is a piece of writing that, one hopes, will become more historical record than topical insight in years to come. Sadly, the portrayal looks to be only too real for the foreseeable future.
Originally published 14 October 2016 and amended 4 January 2017.