Pure Gold @ Soho Theatre, London

directed by
Indhu Rubasingham
“Why is it money has to make all the difference?” pleads one of the characters midway through Michael Bhim’s intriguing new play, and it’s an issue that lies at the very heart of the drama.

In Pure Gold, Bhim explores how money can provide people with security and control in an unstable world, how it gives people choices, gives options and freedom, but he also acknowledges that its lure is sometimes just too strong, its appeal can overwhelm.

Simon and Marsha are a married couple who are seriously struggling with money after Simon loses his job as a bus driver. As a result, Marsha has had to give up her studies and take a job in a supermarket. This happens at a time when their young son Anthony, a smart and talented kid, considerate but still essentially a twelve-year-old boy, is asking for a piano for his birthday, not realising the pressure this is putting on his already stressed parents.

Further pressure comes in the form of Simon’s cousin Paul, who offers him a driving job, not mini-cabbing as he tells Marsha, but ferrying illegal immigrants into the country – he also offers him an envelope full of cash to do it without asking too many questions. And, though Simon makes a big show of talking about choices and the importance of doing the right thing, the pull of having all that money in his pocket proves just too strong.

Bhim’s writing is at its best during the domestic scenes, in his depiction of the clashes between the proud, fiery Simon and the weary but more collected Marsha. The second half of the play contains some amazingly tense moments, as Simon is torn by the need to be a man with money in his pocket so he can sort out their debt issues and buy his son presents and the need to do right by his family. As played by Clarence Smith, he’s a volatile man, quick to lose his temper, to snap, but his anger is fuelled by frustration, at the way their lack of money dominates their lives, by the stranglehold the city exerts over its urban poor.

Golda Rosheuvel gives a superb performance as Marsha, exuding a calm, measured presence, as she tries to hold things together for the sake of their young son. Twelve-year old Anthony is also endearingly played by Louis Ekoku, his eyes nervously darting between his parents’ faces as they fight over him.

While the scenes between Marsha and Simon suck you in, other aspects of the play work less well. The dodgy moneymaking scheme that Simon is drawn into, involving trafficking illegal immigrants and a local Irish crime boss, feels pretty flimsy in comparison. In fact this plot strand seems to exist solely to give Simon his Big Moral Quandary, there’s no decent exploration of the issues involved or the consequences, and here the mechanics of the writing show through in rather too overt a fashion.

But Bhim clearly understands men and the things that drive them, their need to be seen as providers, as being a success, both by their families and the world in general. This is evident in the characters of both Simon and Paul, played by the charismatic Mark Monero, who enters the play as the bad guy of the piece but is gradually fleshed out into a more complex figure. Pure Gold is a far from perfect play, but it contains much that resonates and Bhim is clearly a writer to keep an eye out for.

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