In 2005 Bernard Hare’s Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew became an unlikely bestseller. Unlikely, because it wasn’t the kind of subject matter that usually races up the charts. Part memoir of Hare’s return to the Leeds estate where he had grown up after becoming disillusioned with social work, the book was also a searing portrait of what would later be called Broken Britain.
Hare became a father figure to a group of youngsters whose childhood had been lost in a heady swirl of addiction and abuse and 12 year old Urban was the standard bearer for this forgotten underclass.
Hare never romanticised what went on the estate he called home, but he did paint the individuals in his dysfunctional extended family as much more than numbers on a charge sheet.
And so too does Kevin Fegan’s stage adaptation.
Written in verse, The Shed Crew is an ode to those whose voices are routinely silenced and Red Ladder’s staging in an old Leeds warehouse is a smart move. The set, made from wooden pallets and cardboard, is as chaotic as the character’s lives although take a cushion, this is an uncomfortable ride in more ways than one.
Here Jamie Smelt as Chop is the Hare figure walking a tightrope. He wants to be the one responsible adult in the Shed Crew’s lives, but he is equally as damaged and it is a beautiful performance.
So too is Adam Foster’s Urban. He’s out of control and already addicted to drugs and the adrenaline rush of stealing whatever happens to be in front of him. But like Hare’s Urban, there is also a glimpse of the little boy behind the bolshie facade.
The only problem here dramatically is the complete absence of hope. From the opening scenes it’s clear that this story can only go one way. May be that’s a point. On an estate like this there aren’t many happy endings.
The Shed Crew, Albion Electric Warehouse, to Oct 1. Tickets can be booked via the West Yorkshire Playhouse.