Nestled in a dormant warehouse in Hackney Wick is the Yard Theatre, where their programme of new work ‘The Generation Game’ is in full swing. It’s a gem of a theatre, aiming to give pieces such as Spank House a platform to be seen.
Spank House is a solo show created and performed by brand new artist Jake Costello. A story where ‘Everything I’ve told you is the truth…Except the lies’, the tale is Costello’s own and how as a twenty five year old he became sucked into the fraudulent world of the Spanish boiler house scams in the mid-2000s. Costello leads us through the sleaze, the violence and the downright disturbed truths (or was that lies?) that have stayed hidden from the public even in the light of the exposition by the British media.
As ex-pats, phoney financial advisers, disgraced city boys and coked up Brazilians work to scam vast amounts of money from investors, Jake works his way from disillusioned student, to disillusioned teacher and right into the heart of the dark, seedy underworld that provides a life of affluence and opportunity for the young Londoner who, up until that point, has held nothing but disdain for the life around him. But as his affluence spirals upwards, his fortune spirals downwards with both the underworld and the police quickly catching up with him.
It’s a sign of Costello’s skills at both acting and writing that the audience remain engrossed throughout the entire narrative. We see him flip between direct audience address, stream of consciousness and various multi-role dialogues, all the while capturing the cynical wit, pent-up frustration, paranoia and finally the fear of what and who it is he’s become embroiled. Costello’s command of character is excellent, his accent changing between Sheffield, London, Eton, New York, Miami, Brazil, Liverpool and many more with great ease. And his energy buzzes throughout the entire performance, not only keeping us engaged in the story, but also exciting us at each switch between characters. It’s an energy matched by the general pace of the piece, with a projection at the back showing us flashing images of police raids and mug shots backed by aggressive grime music. These projections are, at times, maybe a little too didactic, with words such as ‘Karma’ appearing when Jake tells us about the police raids in their office – words that the piece would do just as well without.
Whimsical comments directly to the audience make it clear that Jake Costello has a story he wants heard. The phone conversations Jake holds into the microphone are taken from real con-scripts, used on the investors in Spain. We’re told precisely for how many years each member of the crew were imprisoned (Costello, 4 years) and that there are still members of high society who got away scott-free for even worse crimes. They are revelations that sit very uneasily, and it’s again proof of Costello’s talent as a dramatist (as well as a criminal) that we only realise that unease after we’ve finished sitting through and laughing at the crude jokes and bad language.
It’s not overly smooth, or flawless, but happily so, because it’s the rawness of the production that makes it truly enticing. It would be a crime to miss it.