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Brighton Fringe 2023

The Sewage

Theatre Patchwork

Genre: Absurd Theatre, Children's Theatre, Comedic, Commedia dell'Arte, Family, Mime, Physical Comedy, Slapstick Comedy, Theatre, Youth Theatre

Venue: Brighton Youth Theatre 64 Edward Street Brighton BN2 0JR


Low Down

For years now, we’ve had problems with the water companies discharging raw sewage into the sea. You probably thought it was due to technical issues – you flush your toilet and hope for the best.

But you have no idea of the absolute mayhem lurking – on the other side of the U bend …


It starts, as so many things do, with a bit of sibling rivalry. Two brothers – one in a white shirt, seemingly hard working; the other in a black vest, lazy. And their Mum, a harridan with a frying pan, cooking breakfast and obviously favouring the goody-goody white-shirted son. Zoë Alexander portrayed her as a grotesque (though that’s nothing to what she did later with another character …) and there was a lot of slapstick bashing of heads with the pan, and watching (imaginary) pancakes fly through the air.

Simple, obvious symbolism – black and white, good and bad, loads of violent action. Perfectly aimed at Theatre Patchwork’s target audience of younger children – though the youngsters only made up about half the audience, and their parents seemed to be getting just as much fun out of the show. There was a lot of actual slapstick, with Vito Taskin and Marlon Read punching each other while slapping their hands to make the sound of the blow landing. Very much in the style of clowning, or Commedia dell’Arte, and really energetically carried off. Almost no dialogue – just grunts and screeches to signify the emotion. Powerful and very expressive. Clever, too, as it made it easier for very young people to follow what was going on, unburdened by language terms they might not be familiar with.

So far, so domestic … but where’s the sewage?, you’ll be asking.

That’s ‘cos I haven’t mentioned the goldfish yet. This little chap lived in a bowl at the side of the stage, and a (disembodied) hand poked round a curtain to give him fishy movements. The lazy son (Booo!) was meant to feed him, but he fell asleep and so the fish starved – and died. So the lazy son did what anyone (well, certainly this reviewer …) would have done, and flushed the little body down the loo.

The stage at Brighton Youth Centre had a set of steps running up the centre, with a lavatory bowl at the top, positioned like a throne. When the good brother returned home, he decided to chase the fish and retrieve the body, so he climbed into the pan, pulled the chain (lovely bit of mime) and … disappeared.

This is where the show got really weird. There’s a tunnel under the stage – well it’s a sewer, obviously – and Vito Taskin appeared through a small opening onto the floor in front, pushing an ENORMOUS amount of crap ahead of him. I can use that word because that’s exactly what it was. Masses of toilet paper, wet wipes, and … poo!

Poo. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine seeing so much poo. The other brother soon follows, squeezing out into the sewer, and they come face to face with the creatures I can only describe as the Denizens of the Drain. Four of them: Zoë Alexander, Zaki Fletcher, Rob McCloskey and Cody Thacker, dressed in old-fashioned clothing that seemed both heavyweight and ragged.  Their aggressive posture made them look like some Victorian version of Alex and his Droogs from ‘A Clockwork Orange’.

And they’re obsessed with – poo. Well, they do live in a sewer; but they constantly (can I say this in on FringeReview?) … shat. Wonderful physical comedy – legs apart, straining (as you do) with hands hidden behind backs to eventually release blocks, chunks, bars, of poo, dropped down onto the floor.  All made out of foam, I imagine – at least I certainly hope so …    It felt like ‘Close Encounters of the Turd Kind’.

Screams of delight from the younger audience, and gales of laughter from us oldies. Some of the poo was in long ropes (you know the kind – we’ve all been there …) and some was in great lumps. At one point the Mum (we’re back in the house at this point, but that’s the magic of theatre) eats something that disagrees with her, climbs the steps to the lavatory, and does THE BIGGEST POO I’VE EVER SEEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE.

Not just poo, either. Never forget that the most worrying problem in the sewage system is … The FATBERG. Yes, a monster blockage, made up of congealed fat, wet-wipes, toilet paper and poo. All we could see of Zoë Alexander was her face, a tiny oval in a great blob of white gloop – it was made out of fabric and she’d climbed onto a table to ceate the full height of the monster. (I wonder how playing a Fatberg is going to look on Alexander’s CV?)

Loads more chases, and slapstick fighting, between the Denizens and the brothers; and a very inventive set – as well as the tunnel under the stage, all of the surfaces were faced with black bin bags, giving a surface sheen that caught the light. There was an enormous spider-like creature too, at one point. It had four legs (so maybe it was a crab) built out of cardboard tubes, joints articulated with black gaffer tape. These people really understand minimalism, and how to create a believable environment out of very simple material – and trusting to the audience’s imagination …

Appalling – the whole floor of the space was covered in strips of toilet paper, torn up newspaper and wipes, lumps of stuff whose composition I didn’t want to even think about. But in the middle of the mayhem there were some truly lovely bits. They are chasing the fish (remember the fish?) as far as the sea. (No treatment works here – thanks, Southern Water …) and as the stage lighting turns underwater blue, the rest of the cast come on holding illuminated jellyfish on poles above the brothers, and above us in the audience. Beautiful constructions, reminiscent of the lanterns in Brighton’s ‘Burning of the Clocks’ festival – gauzy bodies trailing strands of tiny LED lamps below.

They had a big sheet of plastic, too, like a very thin tarpaulin, but actually made out of black bin bags taped together. They held it wide, and as they moved it up and down it took on the undulating motion of the surface of the sea.  The air rustling over the sheet produced a sound very like the hissing of waves as they lap against a pebbly shore. Perfectly achieved physical theatre – minimal in construction and immensely evocative.

Which, I guess, sums up this production. Perfectly achieved, minimal in construction (though they will have had an awful lot of clearing up to do …) and very evocative.  They got a standing ovation at the end (which was richly deserved) from what I assume was their target audience.

Young people from about three or four, that is – but also their parents, and their grandparents too.

If you fit any of these categories – don’t miss this show.


Strat Mastoris