by Ray Shell with Peader Kirk and Benji Reid.

Exeter Northcott Theatre Exeter 1 April 2011.
Runs 1hr No interval.

TICKETS: 01392 493493.
Review Mark Courtice 24 March at Nuffield Theatre Southampton.

Strong contemporary performance at the heart of age-old story.

At a time when the absence of Black people is being suggested as part of the appeal of the appalling Midsomer Murders on TV, it is especially important that stories from their sensibility are heard on our stages. For several years now Benji Reid has been leading the charge to make Black voices heard, using highly specific physical Hip Hop theatre to do so.

In Breaking Cycles’ The Devil Has Quentin’s Heart he commissioned writer Ray Shell to explore further a character from his novel Iced. Quentin has made a compact with the Devil; he will give up his heart for money. As a Black man his soul must remain his own. As is usual in these deals, he gets less than he bargained for, and the price is much higher.

Reid’s performance has enormous strengths. His physical control is stunning; precision and power come from his mastery of the tools of his trade. There are times when a tiny move is given mesmeric significance, when a world of meaning comes from the slightest gesture. As an artist Reid has been developing this skill, but he is challenging himself further so there is a big text to deal with here, and in this he is less successful.

That’s partly because of the text itself, which fails to disguise the staleness of the story and doesn’t quite make logical sense. It’s also to do with Reid stretching his skills. It’s sometimes hard to hear him, and some of the performance seems too small for a middle size auditorium, lessening its impact.

Often, however, it works. Reid’s face caught in pin-point lighting expresses longing and terror in equal measure, and there is rough poetry in much of the detail of the text – well served by Reid’s rapper-like sensitivity as to how things sound. Andrew Wong’s terrific sound design (performed on stage) is precisely right; emotional, rigorous and driving urgently to Hell. This is matched by Paul Colley’s sculptural lighting, which really adds drama as well as pointing up the isolation of Reid’s benighted soul in torment.

Quentin Forrest: Benji Reid.

Director; Peader Kirk.
Lighting: Paul Colley.
Sound:Andrew Wong.
Artist (on stage portrait) Neequaye Dreph.

2011-03-29 14:57:20

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