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Arcola Theatre, London

Hunger
3.0Reviewer's Rating

Telling the all-too-familiar, yet deeply unknown, story of poverty and homelessness in Western society, “Hunger” is a poignant and much-needed call for humanity and understanding. First published in 1890, the semi-autobiographical story by Norwegian Nobel Prize winner Knut Hamsun is about a young countryman who moves to the big city with the dream of becoming a writer. It asks the question whether Britain today is that different from Victorian society, with its extreme difference in wealth and contempt for the underprivileged community. At the same time, without any referential pointers to its geographical location or epoque, this new adaptation by Amanda Lomas fails as a universal statement about isolation and alienation in the metropolis to deeply engage its audience.

While witnessing the Young Man’s desperate attempt to find work and his subsequent downward spiral, the play subtly reminds us of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (a document adopted by the United Nations in 1948, Article 23 of which stated that “everyone has the right to work”) and deconstructs too systematically the complex mechanisms of extreme poverty and maddening hunger. But it still bears the question: starved, homeless and cold, how can the talented Young Man continue to write, earn a living and make his valuable contribution to society, and in turn pay for his rent and food?

Like in the book, the play is a vibrant and fast succession of perfectly choreographed encounters, experiences and emotions. With an array of characters to perform — student, fishmonger, landlady, newspaper editor, fireman, bookkeeper and park ranger — the supporting roles demonstrate great versatility, but it is a shame that the female roles have not been given more depth at times. Kwami Odoom, however, in the leading role makes us feel the Young Man’s emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual turmoil, and ultimately, despair. In addition to the satirical critique of an unforgiving society, sound and lighting effectively contribute to infuse the material existence of the Young Man with his hallucinations and rebellious comments on a society which fails to understand his predicament.

Poignantly, the play leaves the superficial world of appearances to explore the sensitive inner life and social suffering of the “wanderers of this earth.”

  • Drama
  • By Amanda Lomas
  • Directed by Fay Lomas
  • Kwami Odoom
  • Arcola Theatre, London
  • Until 21 December 2019

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Caroline Perret is a researcher and teacher in the Social History of Art at the University of Westminster. She is particularly interested in the impact of war on culture, from painting and sculpture to poetry and cinema, in which she publishes and gives conferences. She loves unusual artistic performances and theatre plays, anything that might expand her horizons and fulfill her hunger for new experiences.

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