In the 1984 Smiths song “Suffer Little Children,” lead singer Morrissey lugubriously intones, “Oh Manchester, so much to answer for.” Unfortunately, the same might well be said of Anton Dudley’s Manchester-set streetwalker saga Slag Heap. Though the play is ostensibly a droll critique of working-class conditions and the Thatcherite legacy in Britain, any political commentary flees before Dudley’s parade of knife fights, overdoses, pedophilia, s/m photography, and a stomach-churning scene of leg shaving. Lively shocks devolve into dreary muddles.
Dudley tries to depict the inner lives of rent boys and girls, but his fondness for seamy externals trumps character and dialogue. And while the actors look their parts, their struggles with the Mancunian accent and insufficiently motivated actions distance the audience further. (Yet our sympathies do go out to any performer forced to utter the line “You’ve a twinkle in your twat.”) Michael Morris’s static direction fails to heighten interest.
One can’t fault Dudley for ambition. And a scene in which Dave (Vincent Kartheiser) attempts a re-creation of last night’s bacchanal using the ingredients of a traditional English fry-up does hint at a comic sensibility. Perhaps his next play will promise more bangers and less mash.