A Steal by Mike Bartlett

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A Steal by Mike Bartlett. Dir. Mary Peate. Perf. Laura dos Santos, Samantha Robinson, Justin Salinger. BBC Radio 4, 30 March - 3 April 2015. BBCiPlayer

It seems highly significant that I should be writing this review the day after "Question Time," when the leaders of the three main political parties had their final opportunity to explain themselves on television in front of a studio audience at Leeds Town Hall. For all their extensive media training and the positive spin disseminated through various social media outlets, what became painfully evident in the program was the extent to which all of them are thoroughly out of touch with the realities of living in contemporary Britain. In spite of their empty promises to strengthen the economy, improve social services, have a referendum on the European Union, and so on, we felt that they were simply making such statements in the hope of being elected, rather than out of any particular desire to implement them.

Mary Peate's "15 Minute Drama" production of "A Steal" offered an uncomfortable vision of what the politicians should be talking about, but appear unwilling and unable to do so. Shop assistant Hanna (Laura dos Santos) turns to shoplifting as a way of alleviating her own economic difficulties as well as those of her friends. She makes no secret about it; indeed, it becomes something of a cottage industry, with the total financial value of the goods she steals amounting to well over 50K. Rather than exploring the psychology behind her actions, dramatist Mike Bartlett suggests that she is somehow undertaking the task in the public interest, identifying herself as a latter-day Robin Hood, robbing the rich to help the poor. Needless to say the judicial authorities do not see it that way, when she is eventually taken to court; but Hanna justifies herself with a series of observations about the way social and financial inequalities have been systematically sustained by governments in recent years.

Constructed as a first person narrative, "A Steal" presents us with a complex moral (or should it be amoral) problem. While we should not condone Hanna for her actions in the first place, we can understand why she has done it - especially as she defends herself so eloquently in a series of asides to the listeners. Perhaps it's the institutions that need reforming, or (perish the thought) perhaps politicians need to get down off their policy hobby-horses and actually listen to what people are saying. Sadly this is not likely to happen in the near future in the run-up to the election and its aftermath.