Poorland by Sean Grundy

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Poorland by Sean Grundy. Dir. Alison Crawford. Perf. Angela Griffin, Anthony Flanagan, Samuel Barnett. BBC Radio 4, 11 Feb. 2015. BBCiPlayer to 13 Mar. 2015

Sean Grundy's drama provides a chilling example of a dystopia. Sometime in the not-too-distant future, the government has sanctioned the creation of "Poorland Yorkshire," a theme park built on one of Britain's toughest council estates that gives visitors a sanitized experience of what life is "actually" like on the breadline. Specially-created rides with titles such as the "Benefit Island" water-ride, or the "HellEviction," or, as the pièce de résistance, staying the night in the "Disenchanted Kingdom" attest to the way in which ordinary people's sufferings have been exploited for commercial gain.

Susan Varley (Angela Griffin) and her teenage daughter Chris (Faye Castelow) return to this theme-park, which was the place where Susan grew up during the turbulent years of the Eighties. She re-encounters John Thames (Anthony Flanagan), her one-time close friend who shared her experiences, but now administers the theme-park. He is about to open a new ride, "The Fires of Orgreave," based on the long-running dispute in 1984 when the miners picketed the British Steel coking plant in Orgreave, South Yorkshire and entered into a running battle with the police. There were several arrests, and ninety-five pickets were charged with riot, unlawful assembly and similar offenses. Over time, it emerged that the police had deliberately fabricated evidence in order to secure arrests, as well as cover up their excessive reaction to what had begun as a peaceful protest.

In "Poorland Yorkshire," however, the dispute has been reconfigured as a series of flashing-light displays and authentic noises, with the miners' leader Arthur Scargill cast as a Marxist madman inciting his members to further violence. The fact that this distorts the truth about what happened is irrelevant; so long as the ride provides entertainment for the punters (and hence makes money for Thames), then no one actually cares.

Alison Crawford's production made some trenchant comments about how capitalism, personified by Thames and his sidekick Resus Chambers (Samuel Barnett), exploits people in pursuit of money, and eventually ruins their lines. There is no such thing as an authentic working-class culture anymore; contemporary England is a dog-eat-dog world in which only the fittest survive. On the other hand, we discover that John Thames is not quite what he pretends to be; he has actually adopted a new moniker in an attempt to obliterate his working-class roots. It seems that he is somehow ashamed about his past; perhaps community solidarity (that quality that kept the mine-workers together during the long dispute with the government in the mid-Eighties) is no longer an effective social glue as it once was.

Poorland offers a simulacrum of contemporary life in which the distinctions between "reality" and "fiction" have been effectively dissolved. There is no such thing as an authentic working-class anymore; the loyalties that bound them three decades ago have been replaced by the acquisitive instinct. Eventually the arch-capitalist Chambers is hoist by his own petard; in a world dedicated to surfaces, no one believes in the truth any more.

The play offers a chilling vision of Britain in the run-up to the next General Election. Whether anyone will take notice of it is doubtful, however, especially if the people are as much dedicated to surfaces as author Grundy suggests.