The late Jim Allen was not known for his restraint and The Spongers is perhaps his fiercest and most devastating attack on modern life. It centres on Pauline, whose husband has recently left her with huge debts which she is not entitled to assistance with from the state. She is trying to bring up four children, one of which has Down's Syndrome. Matters reach a critical stage when that child is moved into an old people's home as a result of council cutbacks. The real target of this play may appear to be the uncaring beauracracy who turn their backs on a woman trying desperately to raise her children against all odds, but in fact Allen is really attacking the public attitude that all people on state benefits are parasites. It is an unashamedly biased portrait, as Pauline (Christine Hargreaves) is depicted without any black side to her character, while the council representatives are all unattractive, unsympathetic cipers. Such is the tactic that dates back to the earliest of Ken Loach's works. The Spongers is in a way a celebration of all that was good about the filmed television play in the 1970s, with a huge cast, unflinchingly bleak and fiercely political. From the opening shots of an upside down Queen with the telling title underneath, this is a play prepared to say exactly what it wants. The ending is horrific, the acting is stunningly naturalistic. Where has television like this gone?
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