I’ve been completely hooked this past week by the radio 4 drama A Steal by Mike Bartlett, which at first glance has the veneer of simplicity, storywise, but the more you hear, the more you listen and think about it, the more complex it becomes in terms of characters, in terms of plot, in terms of ethics.
Hannah is a highly intelligent shop assistant working in a high end clothes store in Liverpool One. She shares a flat with a nurse, they go out, they drink and have fun, but a customer has made a complaint about her at work and colleagues have complained to management that she is loud and gets in people’s faces, and lately… Hannah is thinking a lot more about life than she used to, about unfairness and inequality, about the haves and the have nots.
Back in the sixties and seventies, plays used to be written around characters like Hannah, but increasingly this doesn’t seem to be the case. There are no Shelagh Delaney’s, no Jack Rosenthal’s, and if Hannah is a relative of any character in theatre or film it’s probably Shirley Valentine. There’s that same sense of no regrets, as well as the Liverpool connection. Laura Dos Santos is electric as Hannah, and she’s well supported by an excellent cast.
The series raises all sorts of questions about corporate ethics, personal responsibility, poverty, gentrification, inequality, civil disobedience, changes to legal aid, class war, disengagement from politics and media manipulation. And it has a realistic ending, rather than a utopian ending. Which is a really hard decision, drama wise, to take, but for the drama to be credible and thought provoking it had to end the way it did.