Review: ★★★★ Hunger, Arcola Theatre

Homelessness: a topic most prevalent in our current political climate, and the subject of Amanda Lomas’ rewrite of Knut Hamsun’s 1890 novel.  A nameless young student struggles to get a job in anything, never mind his dream as a writer. Slowly, he becomes more and more down on his luck, meaning the expense of the city leaves him homeless and hungry, and he begins to lose his state of mind.

Amanda Lomas does a great job at modernising Hamsun’s piece by giving it a timeless feel. Nobody has names, nobody says the date, time or place, to help to make the story universal. This is particularly helpful in detracting away from the life of its controversial author, with an explanatory note in the programme helping to spark a different topical debate; whether we can separate the creator from their work.

As the book was one of the first modernist texts of the 20th century, much like many of these novels it is more of a character exploration than plot driven. We see as the young student slowly descends into homelessness, first by not being able to afford a round to eventually end up living on the streets. This is the most profound realisation to come from Lomas’ adaptation: homelessness can happen to anyone. The nameless student, played brilliantly by Kwami Odoom, could be any one of us and is a regular sight in our day to day lives which adds gravitas to many scenes in the production.

The ensemble cast do a fantastic job at supporting Odoom, playing a variety of characters. Jessica Tomlinson particularly stands out, with her different characterisation, with Archie Backhouse also easily slipping between accents. Katie Eldred, (having previously reviewed her amazing professional debut at the Southwark Playhouse, back in March), is great in her respective roles, and is particularly alluring as Ylajali, the mysterious woman that haunts our young student.

The young student tries to retain his pride, by not fully admitting his circumstances to his friends, his landlord and his writing idol. The only person he admits this to is Ylajali, and her stinging reaction is a stark reminder to us all. Problem is, the young student easily dismisses turning to his family, which is understandable if you’re not close to your relatives, but the fact his reasoning for not telling them is because they would ‘think he was a failure’ does seem a little implausible at times – which is the only frustration.

Final kudos must go to Rajiv’s Pattani’s lighting design and Lex Kosanke’s score, which truly alleviate the actors jarring performances, as the young student’s slips into scaringly realistic disillusionment, through light and sound scapes.

Hunger is a thought provoking piece, particularly as we see the amount of rough sleepers in the UK continue to rise.

Niamh Flynn

Niamh Flynn
Niamh Flynn

Niamh Flynn has been involved in youth theatres and school productions from a young age, and studied Literature & Drama at university. Niamh has always had a keen interest in theatre both in an on stage and off stage capacity. Working for an advertising agency; she loves that Upper Circle allows her to keep in touch with her creative side outside of work, whilst providing her the opportunity to see lots of different styles of theatre.


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