REVIEW: Fast Labour, Hampstead Theatre, Swiss Cottage

Two star rating Steve Waters 2004 play, World Music, which focused on Europe s relationship with Africa, showed the playwright s willingness to engage with the ethical complexity and Fast Labour shows a similar concern. The play charts the irresistible r

Two star rating

Steve Waters' 2004 play, World Music, which focused on Europe's relationship with Africa, showed the playwright's willingness to engage with the ethical complexity and Fast Labour shows a similar concern.

The play charts the irresistible rise of Craig Kelly's well-judged Victor, an illegal immigrant from the Ukraine who pitches up in a Scottish fish gutting factory.

Having owned a sausage making firm back home, he quickly clocks how the gang master, Grimmer, runs his cheap labour supplying operation and wants a piece of the action.

So, pausing to co-opt fellow eastern European immigrants, Andrius and Alexei, and the skills of his lover and former Human Resources manager, Anita, Victor is soon in business.

Within months, he's making huge profits by supplying his boss with cut-price immigrant labour. Unlike the cynical Grimmer- who makes tokenistic noises about the right to employment- Victor appears to believe his self-enrichment benefits others.

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But when a predictable catastrophe sees his empire collapse around his ears, Victor is forced to acknowledge the true cost of economic exploitation.

Such matters are engagingly topical and have been dealt with recently in Ken Loach's excellent film, It's a Free World.

Yet, while no one would accuse Waters of surfing the zeitgeist, if you take away the big issue of exploited foreign labour, the work is left floundering in the dramatic shallows.

That's despite the well-crafted dialogue, which is beautifully brought to life by a sterling ensemble cast, and Ian Brown's pacy direction. The production also benefits from Simon Daw's effective sliding steel set and he and Mic Pool's video projections.

However, one of the problems is Waters' device whereby the immigrants speak in unconvincing splintered English, but speak in their normal voices when supposedly communicating in their mother tongue. It's unfortunate that some of the adopted eastern European accents make their owners sound rather silly.

And to overstress that foreigners are unique individuals with complex personalities and opinions is surely the wrong side of patronising.

Moreover, certain aspects of the plot are not convincingly handled. Victor's relationship with Kirsty Stuart's charming Anita is too sketchily drawn and this deeply ethical individual takes the discovery of Victor's wife and murky business dealings remarkably well.

Meanwhile Victor, who earlier espoused the attractions of becoming a "beautiful shark", folds far too quickly when things go wrong.

Despite Waters' attempts to depict moral complexity, the schematic plot and uneven characterisation make for a theatrically redundant evening.

Until June 21