by Arinze Kene.
Soho Theatre 21 Dean Street W1D 3NE To 23 March 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
BSL Signed 23 Mar 3pm.
Runs 1hr 35min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7478 0100.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 9 March.
Succeeds some way beyond its main theme.
Deep in Deptford Chima returns home after ten years. Dad’s dead, mother’s doing a no-show and brother Onochie, only six when he left, doesn’t recognise him. After a knife-wielding stand-off Onochie still doesn’t want to acknowledge the person who brought disgrace to the family for the killing of a local teenage girl. Now Onochie’s in love, and between fraternal tensions and neighbourhood resentments, playwright Arinze Kene find space for a long interlude of affection and sexual embarrassment between him and secret girlfriend Holly.
All this is integrated in the play’s action, with the nervous comedy of Onochie’s awkwardness when Holly and Chima meet, while the reason the brothers pretend Chima is someone else introduces something more serious. Kene successfully combines romantic comedy – with a mumbling, comic yet touching heroine – hostage and revenge drama, together with late plot revelations that switch audience perspectives while picking-up loose ends scattered earlier on.
Michael Buffong’s expertly-paced production vividly characterises the four different, sharp-etched characters. In an early scene the brothers, Onochie with his back to Chima, take simultaneous swigs from mugs of tea. It seems casual, filling a gap in the awkward conversation. Yet the moment provides a rare sense of connection between them. Both Kingsley Ben-Adir’s Chima, mature in his opening calm and Ash Hunter’s angry, agitated teenage Onochie, carry a sense of the past within their performances, while Ria Zmitrowicz as Holly brings a detailed comic performance that also bears the weight of later revelations. Bradley Gardner has a smilingly threat as the outside world intrudes.
All of which ignores the play’s core point, the matter of racial identification. Insisting he’s half-cast not Black like Chima, Onochie provokes a prison story from his brother, clearly a parable about the danger of Onochie thinking he can ally himself with White people. Some Shakespeare plays have similar parables or allegories. But here the story forecasts the outcome, limiting its dramatic energy, so events seem preordained to make an already-made point.
It limits the play, but nowhere near spoils its many strong features, especially in the impeccable production Talawa Theatre brings to the Soho.
Chima: Kingsley Ben-Adir.
Onochie: Ash Hunter.
Holly: Ria Zmitrowicz.
Liam: Bradley Gardner.
Director: Michael Buffong.
Designer: Ellen Cairns.
Lighting: Jason Taylor.
Sound: Jack C Arnold.