The Curse of the Starving Class
In Sam Shepard’s still-relevant 1978 black comedy we meet an alcoholic father (Christopher Fairbank) whose violence towards the structure of his own dirt-poor rural house looks like threatening put-upon wife (Carla Mendonca). Her dreams of escape rest upon a sheister lawyer’s (Neil McKinven) promises of profit. Meanwhile, stroppy, adolescent daughter (Alice Haig) and her brother (Christopher Brandon) are menaced by a second economic predator, wide-boy bar owner (Stewart Porter).
Mark Thomson’s production captures the sense of Shepard’s vast frontier, upon which such parochial myths as the American Dream play themselves out to the detriment of the characters. Each of the family’s creditors proffers a system which seems to promise redemption from their piteous state, but the father has already suffered at the hands of a made-up money credit system, which has differing effects, depending on your class. It’s timely that at a moment when our own economic system is spoken of as if it were the weather rather than a failed way of thinking that such a discussion should occur. The emphasis on the characters’ abstraction from nature, which surrounds them, and even appears on stage in the shape of a real lamb, lucidly illustrates the seductive appeal of surrogating false primality for rational analysis. This is a bleak, slyly funny evening, capped off with a series of strong performances, most notably from Haig’s rambunctious teenage girl.
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 11 Apr