York Theatre Royal has for a while now boasted a rich and diverse studio programme. And this week, while veteran panto dame Berwick Kaler was entertaining fans in the main house, downstairs a more challenging audience experience was taking place.
In Jadek, the studio was transformed into a down at heel suburban living room where a granddad and his granddaughter Tasha are doing their best to rub along. Superficially, their lives couldn’t be more different.
He was born in Poland; she is very much British. He is blind; she has seen more than a young girl ever should. He is cut off from the outside world; she is forced to experience its harsh reality every day.
However, in the claustrophobic atmosphere of those four walls they soon discover that while they may be separated by age and experience they both share an existence which is overshadowed by violence, misunderstanding and disappointment.
Written by Francesca Joy, who also stars as the granddaughter, it addresses some big issues. In the space of 90 minutes we cover cultural integration, austerity, child abuse, family breakdown, the care system, rape and the class divide.
Sometimes, though, less is more.
A bit of judicious editing would have allowed the play’s central characters more time to breathe and given their relationship much-needed nuance.
Jadek is an ambitious production from Imagine If, the theatre company Joy founded to make work about ‘real lives’. It might not be perfectly-polished, but if theatre is serious about reaching out to new audiences it’s the kind of work we need more of.