OFF THE ENDZ
by Bola Agbaje.
Royal Court (Jerwood Theatre Downstairs) Sloane Square SW1W 8AS To 13 March 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30 Mat Sat 3pm.
Audio-described 13 March 3pm.
Captioned 9 March.
Runs 1hr 5min No interval.
TICKETS 020 7565 -5000.
Review: Carole Woddis 20 February.
Tensions in a Black community.
Gone Too Far! Bola Agbaje’s debut play at the Royal Court Upstairs was a stunner. It told of Black violence on violence, relating it freshly as an issue of identity between being African or UK born. It rightly went on to win her a Most Promising Playwright award.
Since then, Anything You Can Do (Soho) and Detaining Justice for the Tricycle’s ‘Not Black and White’ season shows she is no one-day wonder.
On the Court’s main stage, Off the Endz feels like a slighter work than Gone Too Far! or Detaining Justice – if well-disguised in Jeremy Herrin’s clever, snappy, handsomely-designed (by Ultz) production with its sliding panels and ultra-mod interiors.
Casting Ashley Walters, ex-So Solid Crew member, who has had his own brush with the Law, as has recently released ex-con, David, gives obvious added appeal and edge in a play that looks precisely at options and staying out of trouble.
That it is harder to withstand temptations within the Black community for cultural, racial and social reasons is the world in which Agbaje’s characters clearly operate but which, to her credit, she does not make her central thesis.
Instead, in a deceptively naturalistic TV format, she opposes Lorraine Burroughs’ Sharon and David’s friend Kojo’s conformity – working hard, settling down, having a baby – with David’s free-wheeling irresponsibility. Like a much smaller echo of Jez Butterworth’s `Rooster’ Byron on this stage in Jerusalem, David is the rebel who refuses to submit, metaphorically head-butting anything that stands in his way.
He gets the laughs but, Agbaje shows, his old-fashioned sexism is as out of touch as his unawareness of the gun culture amongst teenage boys is dangerous.
Bringing these clashing values nicely to the boil, it is the hard-working Kojo who encapsulates the tensions, caught between feisty Sharon (a lovely performance from Burroughs), and loyalty to David, exacerbated by a job loss caused by the recession.
How to hang on to moral values in the Black community may be Off the Endz’s apparent focus but its topicality means Agbaje’s message has much wider relevance that can affect us all these days.
Sharon: Lorraine Burroughs.
David: Ashley Walters.
Keisha: Madeline Appiah.
Kojo: Daniel Francis.
Marsha: Natasha Williams.
Boys: Brandon Benoit-Joyce, Omar Brown, Thomas Eghator, René Gray.
Director: Jeremy Herrin.
Lighting: Jo Joelson.
Sound: Emma Laxton.
Composer: Sophie Solomon.
Movement: Liz Ranken
Fight director: Kate Waters
Assistant director: Vernon Douglas.