Carthage, currently playing at the Finborough Theatre lets the audience in on a world of social care, and the circumstances in which the state can take control of your life and take your life.
Its brilliance is in taking what could be depressing subject and making it full of humour and humanity as people try to do what is best. But it also leaves you wondering if at the end is there anything that could be done differently and whether our systems and due processes are the best we really can do as a society.
It is the debut play from Chris Thompson, who drew on his experiences as a social worker over the past 12 years. What is incredible about the play is how finely observed the characters are. There is the boy in care, a jaded social worker, the teenage mother in and out of prison and the prison wardens. There are no judgements on their actions but the consequences are clearly on display for the audience to see.
The cast do well, particularly Jack McMullen as Tommy, the boy who was born in a prison and dies in a prison, who balances his characters tough-guy attitude and vulnerability once he is in prison. We don't know why he is in prison but that's not the point. It is about the process. When the scene that is the focal point of the piece takes place there are no shocks, except for perhaps how routine everything was... right up until the point he dies.
It is also a smart looking and slick production that brings out the cold and clinical nature of prison, procedures, checklists. Fluorescent lights flicker on and off. Plastic chairs and battered furniture.
It is on for a short period at the Finborough Theatre but deserves the buzz and attention that it is getting. Don't miss it. It runs until February 22.
Photo credit: Production photo Richard Davenport