by Janice Okoh.
Royal Exchange Studio St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 16 March 2013.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm Sat 8pm Mat Thu 2.30pm Sat 3.30pm.
TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
then Bush Theatre 7 Uxbridge Road W12 8LJ 20 March-20 April 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm except 21 March 7pm (sold out) no performance 1 Apr. Mat Sat & 27 March, 17 April 2.30pm.
TICKETS: 020 8743 5050.
Runs: 2hr 5min One interval
Review: Timothy Ramsden 28 February.
Bad smell in the back-room leaves a good comic taste in the mouth.
This play won the 2011 Bruntwood playwriting prize (current Exchange method for injecting a healthy dose of new work into their programming). It should certainly win any prize for skilful dramatic revelation. Playwright Janice Okoh starts with a mysterious, semi-sinister situation where the discordant element which becomes apparent in an otherwise standard council flat living-room is a dead chicken, which teenage Tionne is carefully trying to sever.
Other elements bring a sense of dysfunctional family comedy, as does youngest child of three Tanika threatening to empty her bowels, before actually relieving her bladder, in the kitchen sink. Such things gradually fall into new perspectives, which don’t wipe the comedy away but give it an edge of understanding. These are not people indulging in freakish behaviour, but a family of young people driven to unusual ways of life by inability to cope with hard reality.
From college-age Tiana, who has grand plans for her career but little idea of how to cope with the present, through secretively fearful Tione to confused Tanika, at the top end of primary school and hoping to escape through moving in with her teacher Ms Jenkins, they try hiding individual fears by finding strength as a family.
One of Okoh’s strengths lies in putting a non-White family centre-stage with confidence and a sense of their every right to be as comical and confused as anyone. The White outsiders are the peripherals, representatives of different elements in society, neither able to do much good. Lee Oakes’ tall, skinny Dr Feelgood is a local drugs dealer, old by the standards of this household but evidently going nowhere in his crime of choice. More officially, Claire Brown’s teacher Ms Jenkins is all pally joviality, her hand-puppet technique ready for dealing with a distressed pupil, though she’s unable to offer the commitment that pupil wants.
Jenkins is the least convincingly written character, but that’s hardly a fatal flaw. And the focus is sharp across the acting in another strong Sarah Frankcom Exchange production, especially from Susan Wokoma who shows all the vulnerability of a young, though not little, girl.
Ms Jenkins: Claire Brown.
Tiana: Michaela Coel.
Tionne: Jahvel Hall.
Dr Feelgood: Lee Oakes.
Tanika: Susan Wokoma.
Director: Sarah Frankcom.
Designer: Louie Whitemore.
Lighting: Kay Haynes.
Sound: Emma Laxton.
Fight director: Bret Yount.