Richard Cameron's new play The Flannelettes is a grim story of domestic violence and sexual exploitation set against, ironically, the romantic 60s love songs from the Motown stable.
Set in a former mining town Delie (Emma Hook) is 22, has learning difficulties and is staying with her aunt Brenda (Suzan Sylvester) who runs a refuge for abused women. She can sing and is reforming Motown tribute band The Flannelettes with her aunt and George (Geoff Leesley), who runs a pawnbrokers and is happy to don a dress for their performances.
Delie picks up litter to raise money for the refuge and has a civic trophy as thanks. At the refuge she meets Roma (Holly Campbell) a young women in an abusive relationship. Roma tries to warn Delie of about the people she is mixing with, a group she herself seems powerless to leave. Despite her efforts those of the ones looking out for her, Delie gets drawn into an exploitative sexual relationship.
The grim under belly of this economically deprived and drug-riddled community is exposed through the eyes of those who are trying their best to help turn it around.
It is a play that a feels mildly political: One of the characters wears a T-Shirt which says "I still hate Thatcher" and there are references to the pit closures and what the town was like before. However it is the social deprivation and depravity which carries the biggest punches. One of the grown ups asks where the youth got their nastiness from and it is a question that hangs in the air unanswered.
What is interesting is in how the adults inadvertently play their part, entangled in their own relationship troubles. When Delie asks George if he would do anything for the person he loved he says 'yes' and of course his aside 'we've all done daft things for love' falls on uncomprehending ears.
Cook plays Delie's childlike logic and innocence brilliantly which makes what happens to her all the more disturbing. The Flannelette's is another play which made me angry in part for the police attitude and their inability to prevent or punish what is going on. The snatches of Motown covers throughout make for bitter sweet interludes.
There is a thread of humour and a warmth that keeps this from being completely bleak but it is nonetheless a difficult watch at times.
You can catch Flannelettes at the Kings Head Theatre in Islington until 6 June and it is two hours and 20 minutes including an interval with a start time of 7pm.
Other good fringe productions I've seen recently which you can still catch:
Angry Brigade, Bush Theatre