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Gutted, Theatre Royal Stratford East

Written and directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair 

Pros: A play that packs a serious punch; will hurl you outside your comfort zone. Tremendously powerful performances, excellent design and a slick production all round.
Cons: Takes a while to get going, and it perhaps touches on a theme too many in places. 
Our Verdict: Don’t miss this one – a prime example of how powerful theatre can be.
Credit: Jane Hobson
The Theatre Royal Stratford East prides itself on being a true people’s theatre. Despite its rather excellent reputation, I must confess that this was my first visit – I hail from West London, so the trek is a long one. I’m pleased to report therefore, that it was worth the ninety minutes that I spent squashed against a door of the Central line. The venue itself is a wonderful and inspiring combination of old and new: it’s a 19th century Grade II listed building, but it has a funky modern bar attached; the auditorium is a beautifully ornate red and gold affair, and patrons are encouraged to tweet during the performance from certain seats. This is a venue which is embracing the future without losing any of its character along the way.
Rikki Beadle-Blair’s Gutted continues this boundary-pushing theme. Walking out of the theatre after 2hrs 30 minutes I felt like I’d been hurled out of my comfort zone and properly roughed up. The powerful tale of the lives of four brothers addresses just about every taboo topic you can think of: incest, transphobia, sexual abuse and child abuse to name but a few. At its core however, it’s a heart-warming story about getting on and, more importantly, about being human. You will see glimpses of your imperfect selves in the characters, and it’s this makes it powerful and disturbing, even for those not easily shocked. My only criticism is that it can become too much of a punch in the face. So many themes are addressed that in places it starts to seem so overwhelming that it loses its effectiveness and it’s punchiness.
Nonetheless, Gutted is a brilliant piece of writing, and it’s delivered on stage with passion, flair and true style. Beadle-Blair’s design (yes, he is also the designer for this one) is superb – mirrors on three sides reinforce the idea that you see yourself in the reflections of the characters, and Michael Nabarro’s precision perfect lighting design adds to the production’s ultra-modern feel. The true stars of this show however, are the performers themselves.
With so much emotion written into the script, the characters could easily have been overplayed. Not on this occasion though: across the board the performances are nothing short of epic. There are no weak links, but the stand-out performance for me came from Frankie Fitzgerald as Mark Prospect, the least ‘messed-up’ (in a conventional sense) of the four brothers. As a fiercely protective family man, Fitzgerald strikes a perfect balance between being an aggressive but loveable character, and in the final scenes it becomes clear that even he has his own problems. It’s a sterling performance, infused with warmth and humour throughout. Louise Jameson as Bridie Prospect, the mother of the brothers, is also excellent, and her final monologue is one of the most moving scenes of the play. The rest are also faultless, and special mentions go to Gavin McCluskey and James Farrar, who had the most challenging roles in terms of addressing the taboo topics, and who handled them not only admirably, but deeply convincingly.
Gutted is not without its problems. In places the scenes drag, and it certainly took a while for it to get going. I must confess that in our interval discussion we thought the performance was treading the line between a three and a four star show. However, the second half in particular proved us wrong, and by the end of it both of us were feeling emotionally drained (in a good way).
I feel that Gutted is a hugely important show, and one that you should certainly not miss. It truly is a piece of theatre unlike any other that I have scene, and to those who are not yet converts to stage performances, it’s an absolutely prime example of just how powerful live theatre can be.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Gutted runs at the Theatre Royal Stratford East until 25th May 2013.
Box Office: 020 8534 1110 or book online at http://www.stratfordeast.com/gutted

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