by Keith Saha music and lyrics by the ensemble.
20 Stories High Tour to 24 April 2010.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 13 March at Contact Theatre Manchester.
<.b>Street cred takes to the stage.
Anyone – anyone – who says theatre is for aging, middle-class cultural show-offs should see this, from Liverpool’s 20 Stories High theatre company. At Contact, a largely young (teenage, twenties), ethnically diverse crowd lapped up Ghost Boy, springing back with cheers and moments of participation.
Its territory’s familiar enough. Gang-leader Jamal rules his turf and, having a knife about him for defence, stabs an innocent boy who won’t be bullied. A generation up Dennis tends the flowers in his garden, while, in absurd disguise as ‘Flyman’ snapping pictures of youths committing anti-social acts.
So, which of them do you think ends up doing Community Payback? Dennis is picking litter when he comes across Jamal swinging on a suspended tyre. The story puts them side by side then brings them closer together.
Unsurprisingly, Ghost Boy, with its themes of youth violence, drugs, generations overcoming antagonisms and the possibilities of self-redemption and forgiveness, developed from writer/director Keith Saha’s work with young people.
What makes Ghost Boy stand out is its fluent mix of performance elements. Ghost Boy himself appears as an actor with a huge head-mask. His shy physique when alive, tautened under threat, later becomes the insubstantiality of a wraith, the green-tinged mask expressing huge sadness.
Besides the lively performances of Tachia Newall and Everal A Walsh, which sustain several quieter, more routine sections, and Saha’s direction, which reinforces moments like one where the dead boy stands between the two arguing characters who have had links to him in life, there’s often a supercharged theatricality.
It’s there in Jamal’s puppet-thug gang, and the drawings inspired by Ghost Boy’s interest in doodling when alive, projected sketches that can turn into Jamal’s nightmare, or scrawls which attack and surround his silhouette before seeming to drown it in blood. And in the dance and songs,
It comes from the side of the stage too, where Hannah Marshall’s ‘cello score repeatedly sets an apt mood and where Hobbit provides a range of live, amplified vocal effects, plus a bravura Beatbox display. Here’s theatre with a social message, and a uniquely vibrant way of delivering it.
Jamal: Tachia Newall.
Dennis: Everal A Walsh.
Michael: Courtney Hayles.
‘Cello: Hannah Marshall.
Director: Keith Saha.
Designers: Jo Pocock, Sofiski.
Lighting: Mark Distin, Paul Colley.
Sound: Simon Moloney.
Dramaturg: Philip Osment.
Associate artist: Julia Samuels.