Wednesday, 18 June 2008


If there is one theatre production you must see this year, make sure TORN is the name

Written by Femi Oguns and directed by Raz Shaw, Torn is back at the Arcola Theatre, Stoke Newington, Hackney.

A formidable cast which includes, Jocelyn Jee Essien, well known for the TV shows, 3 Non Blondes and Little Miss Jocelyn, Kelly Bryan and Wil Johnson,

A controversial and sensitive subject, Torn explores the tensions between Afro-Caribbean and African communities through the lines of cross-cultural relationships.

What has love got to do with colour or race or place of origin?

These are some of the questions the play hopes to invoke in the audience.

Its aim is to break down the stereotypical views we hold of each other.

A must see for 2008

For more information visit:

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Falling In Love With Shakespeare

If you want me to tell it like it has always been, here it is. The thought of studying Shakespeare back at school was scary. I didn't like or appreciate the language. It was difficult to understand and it really got under my skin. I honestly felt like I was being asked to read the bible for my English literature class.

However, this is the biggest joke of all; I fell in love with Macbeth and Othello. Macbeth till this day remains one of my favourite Shakespeare texts. The dramatic techniques in that text alone, makes me want to write a new play each time I read it.

Othello, you have to fall in love with him, a man of honour and strength, yet so weak and fallible. It goes to show no matter how strong or highly placed you are in life; there is always that one thing something which gets the better of you. In Othello's case, that's Desdemona and if you don't like Iago, I am tempted to ask why.

Imago is that colleague who smiles at you but stabs you in the back and b**ch about you. You that one, that's right, there are lots of Iago's around today. One can never be careful... Crafty, vindictive, spiteful and hateful, you name it, he is the real deal. No messing about on that one.

Those were the texts of Shakespeare I loved as a teenager and still do. But recently, that has changed. I finally fell in love with the boy from Stratford-Upon-Avon, all over.

The Histories, a fistful of plays by William Shakespeare popularly known as the History Cycle, opened in Stratford-Upon-Avon back in 2006 to critical acclaim and rapturous audience response.

Back in 2006, I knew nothing about the Histories. I was just another journalist, chasing after my own story and doing what I love to do best, write my plays. You know how we do it, well, come 2007, I get the opportunity to work with the RSC. Low and behold, I finally get the opportunity to see my first Shakespeare production, Henry V. I loved every minute of it. The dramatic action was consistent. The language was beautiful and sounded great. It was eloquently delivered by the actors. It had humour, it had style and above all, was and still is one of the most memorable piece of theatre I have ever seen. It is an event that will stay with me for a very long time.

This is the part that blew me, English history will take years to explore but Shakespeare’s ability to capture a period of time within these plays is fascinating and had critics rolling over to get the best angle they could on their reviews.

Finally the show comes to London and I have the opportunity to witness the whole cycle of plays in repertoire at the Roundhouse theatre. You bet I didn’t miss a day. I loved every minute of it - Richard II and III, Henry IV Parts I and II, and Henry VI Parts I, II and III – this was my one opportunity to experience English history with Londoners.

For me, Henry VI trilogy will always stand out because it had Chuk Iwuji in the lead role of Henry VI. The RSC did it again, cross-casting and for me, that stood out. It is an experience Iwuji himself describes as “The most joyfully, challenging, frustrating and enlightening experience of my life. I think that just encapsulates professional life anyway.”

To see one man have to suffer and be as helpless as his character was, despite being a king was truly breathtaking. Breathtaking not because he fought back but because the character of the man that he truly is came through to me as an audience member ever step of the way. Crowned king at 9 months old, that’s a job for anyone to take on. Yet he remained true to himself. You could call him an ineffective king because the actions of others move him about and I personally believe his decision making ability is crap. But who is to say, a king cannot have a heart.

The level of hatred which existed between the house of York and Lancaster was terrifying. Everyone made claim to the throne. People switched allegiance to the king and each other like they were changing their electricity or gas supplier.

I can truly say, without a doubt, this has been one of those moments where you experience a form of theatre you are not used to and you say WOW! I loved every minute of it. The characters, the staging, costumes, lighting, stage design and the music, was marvellous.

To sum it up, I was part of history and that is what theatre should always be about.

Image: Chuk Iwuhi as Henry VI
Credit: Ellie Kurtz and the RSC

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Celia - The New Players Theatre - May 2008

What choice do you have in life when the actions of others constantly shapes your world? How painful is it when you are moved and shook by others but have no say in the affairs of your life. These are some of the questions raised by Celia, a new production from Word of Mouth Media.

Set 50 years after the 1807 act that brought an end to slave trade but not slavery, Celia is the story of one woman’s painful journey that has left a mark in history. From her childhood days, Celia never had the opportunity to decide where she wanted to wake up or what her actions of the day would entail. Left behind as a baby by her parents, slaves fleeing from their owners, Celia is looked after by her aunt Letty. Letty does her best to ensure Celia gets the best life has to offer considering their predicament as slaves owned by fellow human beings like themselves. Letty could not have put it better for young Celia to understand when she said, “God created in glory of colour but man has divided in black and white.”

Soon, Celia’s friendship with Richardson, who takes a romantic interest her, gets her into more trouble than imagined. Young Celia is auctioned off to another owner. Whose actions will forever change the course of her life. A painful journey for any woman, Celia represents the many slave women who endured atrocities against humanity and their womanhood in silence and had no power to change their situation.

A tale of beatings and brutality, where men are separated form their wives and children, and women are repeatedly raped by their masters. Even the white preacher’s sermon focuses more on slaves being corrected by their masters rather than the freedom God has allowed for all. Celia is a thought-provoking production that takes you back to a time in history and forces you to examine the actions of man.

While Celia is a great story, worthy of the stage and it has its entertaining moments, it lacks direction in areas such as setting, not once is it made clear to the audience where the play is set. If you are not fully aware of the history of slavery, you might have to work extra hard to figure that out for yourself. Though it is not clear if the director’s intent was for the actors to use their British ascent throughout this production, the language was lacking also and overall, the production could have done with more energy.

Nonetheless, this is a story worth telling for the sheer courage of one woman to stand up for herself.

For more information, visit:

Tel: 08700 600 100

Image: Stuart Allen

Oxford Street - Royal Court Theatre - May 2008

Levi David Addai just keeps them the plays rolling in. His latest offering, Oxford Street, puts life on one of Britain’s busiest street as it is, onto the British stage.

Set in a discount sportswear shop, with characters that are easily recognisable if you have dared to brace one of Europe’s most famous shopping districts. Oxford Street tells the story of Kofi, a university graduate, who dreams of becoming a journalist but for now, he has to settle for the role of a security guard at Total Sports. While he plans the best way to work his way up on the journalism ladder.

Kofi gets on with his colleagues and is fond of the fast talking Loraina, who dreams of making it big time in the music industry, claiming, “I didn’t pick performing arts, performing arts chose me.” An all too familiar statement if you have ever had to hold down a part time job while pursuing your dream. His boss, Emmanuel (Cyril Nri) has a soft spot for him. Things are running smoothly until Darrell, an old mate turns up and Kofi has to make some tough decisions.

Soutra Gilmour’s ability to turn The Jerwood theatre Upstairs into one of the most vibrant sports shop in theatre has to be commended for the way it replicates life as you know it in any one of the sports shop on Oxford Street on the stage.

Dawn Walton’s direction of Oxford Street is lively and without a doubt, a witty and entertaining production that captures a slice of life for what it is. The cast is equally as vibrant. They are not afraid to tell you about their dissatisfaction but they are able to maintain their sense of humour.

Nathaniel Martello-White is strong as Kofi and Ashley Walters captures the trouble making Darrell superbly. Preeya Kalidas is brilliant as Loraina and Kristian Kiehling is the Polish security guard who takes his job more seriously than life itself but he will make you laugh.

Addai’s ability to capture life from the British African viewpoint and posses a voice that tells you about life in London as it is, is to be admired. If this young man continues on this path, this is a name you are bound to see and hear more of on the British theatre scene in years to come.

Director Dawn Walton
Designer Soutra Gilmour
Lighting Philip Gladwell
Sound Carolyn Downing
Movement Ann Yee
Cast: Reece Beaumont, Preeya Kalidas, Daniel Kaluuya, Kristian Kiehling, Amelia Lowdell, Nathaniel Martello-White, Cyril Nri, Ashley Walters, Shane Zaza

Oxford Street is now showing at the Royal Court Theatre until 31 May 2008


Tel: 0207 565 5000

Image: Johan Persson

Vula - Barbican - April 2008

Keeping in tradition with its 2008 season, the Barbican is exposing theatre goers to diverse works from different backgrounds and cultures.

As you step into the confines of the Pit, you hear the gentle lapping of waves and the mesmerising background music gets your attention. Produced by The Conch, Vula means Moon in Fiji, and is a production which aims to show the relationship of the people with the water that surrounds them.

The stage is transformed into a pool of water and the production starts off with a dancing mat. You are perplexed, wondering ‘how did they do that?’ The cast members come on stage at different points, using dance, puppetry, music and vigorous energy to interpret different rituals of the Island, from the use of mats to flowers to illustrate the relationship between water and the women of the island. Water has never once played such a symbolic role during a stage production.

Highly visual, Vula evokes a mystical understanding of nature and has its entertaining moments and is deeply entrancing. This is largely due to the background music which is seductive and hypnotic, and has the potential to put you in meditation mode.

However, you can count the number of words spoken on stage and that is where Vula falls short. While the relationship between the women and water is clearly established, it fails to tell you the stories and experiences they hold dearly about that relationship.

Image: John McDermot

Monday, 28 April 2008

Footprints In The sand (Oval Theatre) April 2008

Migration and immigration fuels one of the biggest debates in British society. It’s in our newspapers, on our television screens and has now made its way to the British stage.

A double bill, ‘For One Night Only’ by Oladipo Agboulaje, and ‘Letting Go’ by Rukhsana Ahmad, they both tell the stories of migrants who risk their lives by any means possible to get to the shores of England, seeking greener pastures. Their hopes and dreams all depend on one voyage. However, they soon find that their past still calls at them either by way of the sea through which they came or their family back home, who expects them to work financial wonders and miracles once they get to England.

In ‘Letting Go’, Ahmad tells the story of Abbas, who is continuously being tormented by memories of his brother who dies as they crossed the English Channel to get to Britain. Despite being able to escape the war that has ravaged his home country, the war within him won’t stop due his loss. Everyday, he sits at Dover and watches as the ships come in, anticipating that his brother might be on one of these ships. Only to realise in order to move on with his life, he must first let go of the hope that his brother is still alive or forever remain trapped.

Agboulaje tells a different story in ‘For One Night Only,’ Eddie and Bode have come to England to pursue a better life and that dream is to one day perform at Covent Garden.. They are economic migrants in search of the good life and will do whatever it takes to please their families who expect nothing less than success from them. However, the road to Covent Garden is not a straight forward one.

Within the cosy confines of the Oval theatre, Helena Bell brings this story to life. Using minimal stage props, she forces you to focus on the characters and their stories. Immigration is a subject that divides people with varying opinions but you are forced to feel empathy for these characters who reflect the stories of others you have heard of. Stories about survival, quest for freedom and above all, their struggle for a better life individuals from all corners of the world embark on, when they set out on a voyage when they leave the world they have always know for one where they are all alone with no help from anyone.

Agboulaje and Ahmad have created a powerful lense, a diasporic narrative, through which one can take a different point of view to the issues of immigration in Britain today.

While the subject is timely, topical and thought-provoking, Footprints in The Sand, could have done with more energy and allow a sense of depth about its theme to permeate long enough. So, you don’t feel disconnected once you leave the theatre, thinking it's just another story.

Image: Alessandro Evangelista

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

House Of Agnes (Oval Theatre) March 2008

My mother’s motto has always been and still is, ‘if you live under my roof, I clothe and feed you, and pay the rent, you must live by my rules.’ Levi David Addai has successfully captured what has long been the tradition of British-African parents on the London stage in his new play, House of Agnes.

An exploration of the British-African way of life, Addai brings to life, the challenges of a single mother from two conflicting cultural perspective. Agnes has lived and worked in England for the last 40 years but has decided its time to go back home to Ghana. However, she must get her sons, Solomon and Caleb to agree on living together in peace and do as she wants. This sets them on a course of collision because these are two young men with a mind of their own and want to be free of Agnes’s control.

Solomon wants to make his own decisions and at the same time, wants his mother to accept his girlfriend, Davina, who Agnes dislikes and refers to as ‘Jezebel.’ Needless to say, her resentment is unfounded. Caleb appears to have his life in order in comparison to Solomon, whom he considers to be ‘reckless.’ While he is happy to please his mother, he also wants to be free of her control. Their differences set them on a path of sibling rivalry. Though they want to be able to lead their lives on their terms; they also crave their mother’s acceptance and to a certain degree, approval.

Cecilia Noble delivers a brilliant performance as Agnes the Matriarch who worries more about her precious white carpet than the feelings of her sons. Nevertheless, she is not afraid to lay down the rules or let people know that she is from the ‘old school.’ Ludvig Bonin and Anwar Lynch shine as two young men who can rise up to the task and bring intense moments alive on stage.

House of Agnes is a clever, tender and accomplished examination of clashing traditional and cultural values one family has to face up to, which is reflective of the wider society. Addai shows family tension through of his characters and you are able to relate to each one as their make their case. A testament to Addai’s understanding of traditions, cultures and the gap that exits between generations.

Image: Mark Brenner

Testing The Echo (Tricycle Theatre) April 2008

Topical and timely, Testing The Echo is the long awaited response from British theatre to help define Britishness. Is it true that ‘being able to see the other point of view is what being British is about?’ Better still, why do people decide to become British citizens?

Mahmood is a young Pakistani migrant who wants British citizenship so his father will be pleased with him. Tetyana wants to escape an abusive marriage and Chong wants to be able to travel, so he can see his family again. They all have their different reasons for wanting the red passport but are they willing to live by the values of the country they crave to be part of?

This soon becomes the focus of the play as Emma (Teresa Banham), an ESOL (English For Other Speakers of Other languages) teacher, is embroiled in a classroom confrontation with Nasim. Who feels she is being made to learn things which are in direct contradiction of her Islamic beliefs when the class is made to learn about what constitutes an English breakfast and the notion of learning all about pork doesn’t go down too well with her.

Going through an ESOL class is one thing but taking the citizenship test and crossing the final hurdle of swearing allegiance to the Queen brings up an entirely different set of questions. A number of issues jump at you; national identity, a sense of place and belonging, and without a shadow of doubt, the differences between British values and other cultural values.

The values of migrants from different parts of the world who have made Britain home but hold on to their traditional and cultural beliefs. We are confronted with the challenges of multiculturalism. How accepting are we of each other and where do we draw the line when it comes to the things we hold on to sacredly, especially our religious beliefs?

Written by David Edgar and directed by Matthew Dunster, Testing The Echo is intelligently written and thought-provoking. For its ability to capture the mood of differences which exists in a fragmented society hides itself under the disguise of multiculturalism, it is certainly a brilliant production.

It certainly speaks volumes about the state of our communities and society and is tied together by the thread of identity which transcends the boundaries of race alone.

Molora (Barbican Centre) April 2008

When you get an actress who lives and breathes the words of her character on stage and exteriorises every action, you are onto something. Within the intimate confines of the Pit, at the Barbican, Yael Farber has taken the ancient Oresteia Trilogy and given a modern day South African twist with the core message of truth and reconciliation.

Elektra watches on as her mother takes the life of her beloved father. She is soon resigned to the role of a slave in her father’s home, a place that is rightly her inheritance. Subjected to inhumane torture at the hands of the woman she calls mother. She also awaits the return of her brother Orestes, whom she hid years back, so her mother would not murder him like she did their father.

The stage action is gruesome as Klytemnestra inflicts the pain of cigarette burns, drowning and the use of the wet-bag - a form of torture used during the apartheid era in South Africa and made famous during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings - to suffocate her. I have often heard of people who are suffocated and how they struggle and gasp for breath. However, seeing it live on stage as Elektra struggles with her arms and legs flapping, I suddenly feel the pain of the countless victims who have died gasping for air. Heartless does not describe what the first half of this play holds in store for us, the audience. However the road to reconciliation is even harder for the characters we see on stage as they face up to the reality of life and the fate it has dealt them. Every action on stage is reminiscent of South Africa’s struggle to reconcile its years of atrocities as it forges ahead to be become the Rainbow nation.

Elektra’s hunger for vengeance consumes her to the point where she poses the question, ‘If you rob us, shall we not revenge?’ to the audience. However, Farber is questioning the whole literal notion of an eye for an eye.

The performances are brilliant as is the writing and direction. Jabulile Tshabalala is formidable as Elektra and takes responsibility for her character throughout the play. At no point did she lose the momentum of the emotions created on stage. Dorothy Ann Gould is enigmatic as Klytemnestra and the chorus of Xhosa tribeswomen add a hunting and evocative traditional meaning to the production.

At the heart of Farber’s interpretation is our ability to forgive when the deeds against us are unforgivable.

When do you get to that point where revenge is no longer what drives you but a will to live. Farber has once again gone to the deep reserve of her resources as a writer and director to show what the human mind is capable of. She is also keen to let you know that revenge is consuming and the ability to move on begins to manifest when you let go of your past in order to regain your future.

Molora is intensely powerful, hypnotic and truly engaging

Image: Christian Enger

Friday, 28 March 2008

The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui (Lyric Hammersmith) Feb 2008

The set design gets your attention, so do the crates and chairs. They make you wonder if you are about to be taken on a journey that involves a sandy beach.

Well, dream on, for The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui, is a story of terror and oppression. It chronicles the rise of Arturo Ui, a notorious gangster, who only understands the way and language of the gun. Manipulative and full of deceit, his gang is described as ‘bloody,’ not to mention, the discord that exists between them.

Set within the context of modern Africa, this new instalment of Brecht’s satire has taken it upon itself to remind us that totalitarianism and tyranny are very much alive in our world today.

Brecht's original, written in 1941, transposed Hitler's rise to power to gangland Chicago, and this African version retains references to Chicago and Cicero. Thus, our Arturo is a son of the desert rather than a son of the Windy City.

Ui is on a mission to prove to us that power corrupts, but his grip on power will leave a long-lasting scar on his own people. He feels that he's highly misunderstood but he is adept at worming his way to our hearts.

Lucian Msamati is brilliant as Ui, his ability to be animated in this role is to be applauded, as he gives us a man who is at war not only with the outside world but within himself.

There were moments of laughter to ease the tension built up by the different actions of this play; where everyman is a law to himself, especially Arturo Ui.

While I am far from being impressed with the decision to announce each scene before it starts; I commend Ti Green for the conceptualised stage. In addition, the ingenious use of crates as chairs and the coffin that serves as a doorway when one is required; injects some zest to the production. The political speech delivered by Ui at the end is well placed, because it reminds me of the familiar rhetoric of dictators.

Though, Bertolt Brecht did not live to see the first production of his play, but even, he would agree that this story deserves to be told from an African viewpoint. Moreover, this is a metaphor for the different conflicts and struggles going on in the four corners of the world.

Image: Simon Kane

De Botty Business (March 2008 Hackney Empire)

Cancer is no light-hearted matter. And when it is prostate cancer, it becomes a subject many of our men would rather not talk about. Not the poet and writer, Benjamin Zephaniah.

If like me, then you are keen on facts and learning new things, this is the production to watch out for. You will find out what Digital Rectal Examination (DRE) stands for, as well as the fact that Black men are three times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than white men.

Commissioned by the UK's Prostate Cancer Society, De Botty Business is an upbeat and humorous examination of the misconceptions, myths, fears and taboos connected to prostate cancer in the Black community.

The comedy is set in a West Midlands barber shop, owned by Jamaican couple Mr and Mrs Maxwell and run by their Rastafarian son Marky. Up until the day we join him, Marky's greatest problem in life is that he would rather be running the world's first Rasta airline - with flights daily between Jamaica and Ethiopia - than cutting hair. But on this fateful day, his father returns from some routine blood tests to proclaim that he is dying.

Mr Maxwell is faced with the prospect that he may have prostate cancer and he is adamant no one will put ‘their fingers’ up his backside in order to examine him. His fears skyrocketed when he starts listening to the different medical options facing him. But the cancer seems to be less scary than some of the ill-advised input from his friends.

However, the arrival of Johnson brings a different and balanced perspective for them all. Maxwell’s reversed the decision not to see a doctor.

The unadulterated Jamaican Patois on stage adds an edge to this production which makes it enjoyable and thrilling to watch. You can’t help but laugh at the individual idiosyncrasies of these different characters.

The ensemble is indeed a bunch of interesting and quirky people; from Ivan, who believes, “Root medicine is the real medicine and nature knows best,” to Charlene, the local ‘chatterbox.’

If Charlene gets hold of your business, be prepared, everyone you know is going to find out. And who can forget Barns, the most ‘financially astute’ character I have ever experienced on stage. The burst of laughter from the audience as these characters reveal themselves is a testament to the play's ability to entertain and educate. You just have to experience it yourself.

This is a well thought-out production by the Prostate Cancer Society. It's time we stopped using tradition as an excuse not to live and lead a healthy lifestyle, and start using common sense.

This is no Jamaican farce of a play, these are real life issues presented with a touch of compassion and ‘wicked’ humour. De Botty Business is insightful, brilliant and as witty as the play's title. Riveting and without a doubt, absolutely entertaining.

Image: The Prostate Cancer Charity

Written by Benjamin Zephaniah
Directed by Karen Tomlin

Cast: Cedric Duncan, Joan Hooley, David Monteith, Irina Aggrey, Terence Anderson, Cleveland D Herbert, Sabina Cameron and Jonny Leigh-Wright.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Afrika! Afrika! (O2 January 2008)

When you first walk into the tented at London's 02 Centre, you are embraced by the warmth and magnificent setting. It is certainly different to the good old London Particular - the fog and cold, which has graced your skin since you set out on your journey.

Inside the tent, there is anticipation in the air as folks wait for this supposedly ‘magical circus adventure from the amazing continent of Africa.’ While I was somewhat sceptical about Afrika! Afrika! based on the media hype that surrounded it.

From the onset, the energy is exhilarating and exuberant. With each act, the energy level of its cast reaches a higher level. It never occurred to me that so much could be done with a basketball until I saw Afrika! Afrika!

Starting with an energetic dance overture and followed by various traditional dance pieces from different parts of the continent; Gumboots and step dancers from South Africa, and dancers from Gabon and Tanzania.

The troupe is amazingly talented and can form human pyramids with their styles. It reminded me of my childhood days back in Nigeria when the Atilogun dancers from the East had me on my toes trying to do what they were doing.

Body Bizarre, as suggested by his stage act is the most befitting name for Huit Huit, a male body contortionist, who comes on stage like a spider and can get his body to fit through a tennis racket. Finally, the ingenuity of the tennis racket’s mission is accomplished on stage. He can even do push up in the position of a spider. There ought to be a "do not try this at home" sign hanging on the stage.

Afrika! Afrika! also has some elements from the West, with the Monocycle and basketball virtuosi from America; they pumped their way through Mase’s "Breathe, Step Shake" - a reflection of how Africa has gladly embraced the Hip-Hop culture over the years.

The synchronisation of the acrobatic pole performers from Tanzania and South Africa will forever lingers in my memory, for their precision and ability to climb on frail poles, yet with such vigour. It was racy and entertaining.

The music is enchanting and the live band, a delight to watch and listen to. The traditional African songs are relaxing at different stage, providing a nice contrast between the high and mid-tempo songs. The African drums bring a powerful rhythm, and without a doubt, an enchanting charm to the mix, it is incomparable to any other dance pieces.

The highlight for the night was from Lunga, a female body contortionist from South Africa. In addition, Ntombifuthi Pamella Mhlongo dazzled the audience with her voice and costume, made from material showcasing the map of Africa and all its countries. Lunga’s performance was a combination of the bizarre and talent, fused together, as she commanded her body movements with such fluidity against the backdrop of Mhlongo’s sultry voice. She left the audience gasping for more.

The finale with the entire troupe of Afrika! Afrika! had the crowd dancing with them. While this is surely a memorable night, I'm forced to question the relevance of the musical overture after the interval break.And then I was hooked! I joined in the dancing and merriment. This is the Africa which western media never show or tell you about. Afrika! Afrika! is truly magical, electrifying, enthralling, colourful and without a doubt, entertaining.

Let There Be Love (Tricycle Theatre - Feb 2008)

I was impressed with this production. Kwame, you got it right.

If you think good old traditional family theatre is dead, think again. Kwame Kwei-Armah has resurrected the good old family story with his new play, which he also directed. Let There Be Love is a tale of culture, family, relationships and an immigrant tale weaved together, and set against the backdrop of Nat King Cole’s song by the same title.

Alfred Morris is a West-Indian pensioner with a difference - he is contentious, foul-mouthed, refers to his daughter as ‘pussy hole’ and has terminal cancer. However, his pride and feelings of indifference towards his daughters will not allow him to ask for help.

Luckily for him, his daughters, Gemma and Janet decide to enlist the help of Maria, a Polish immigrant seeking greener pastures in England and works as a house help.

She is keen to learn all about the English way of life and make a decent living. Soon, Alfred realises that he too can be of help to another and be appreciated because Maria gives him a chance he feels he has never been given by his daughters to be there for them.

Through Maria, we begin to see the vulnerability of Alfred and the compassionate side his children crave for but have no access to. Not only does he supply her with the best way to get her landlord to switch the heating on for much longer by providing her with ‘cheap landlord buster,’ he also practices his love of the English language with her. Calling the moments he kisses his teeth as his way of “an articulation of dissatisfaction.”

Kwei-Armah creates an interesting and dynamic relationship between Maria and Alfred which is what keeps the play going; the wittiness and rapport of both characters. It is clear to the audience that they need each other - Alfred needs Maria to listen to his life stories and Maria needs a home when she starts experiencing challenges with her boyfriend. Nevertheless, Alfred will need more from Maria.

Kwei-Armah brings sensitive topics such as lesbianism from an Afro- Caribbean perspective and euthanasia unto the live stage. He treats both subject matters with an understanding that leaves the audience gasping when Alfred gives Maria a run-through of how he intends to end his life. It was theatre pushing its boundaries.

Joseph Marcell brings an art of mastery to his role as Alfred Morris. Lydia Leonard is astounding as Maria, and she gave one of the best Polish accents I have ever heard on stage. Sharon Duncan-Brewster pulls of her role as Alfred daughter, a cross between a tomboy and the feminine side his father used to know.

I was rather getting tired of plays that were too ambitious and you are left wondering what the last hour or two was about at the end of it. Kwei-Armah has delivered with Let There Be Love; it is an absorbing and refreshing play and certainly entertaining.

Image: Tristram Kenton

White Boy (Soho Theatre) January 2008

Sorted is a Sudanese teenager who has come to England after experiencing the brutal murder of his family. He soon finds himself in a new environment and culture. It is rather challenging for him to comprehend both worlds and deal with his grief at the same time.

Ricky is a white boy who has friends from all over the world, including Victor, a Jamaican, who is Ricky’s football buddy. They are liked and respected by all and as far as they are concerned, they are all ‘breddas.’ Flips, is the school drug dealer and his presence sends shivers down the spine of those around him.

One incident changed everything for these young men and Ricky is forced to confront his white identity in a multicultural Britain.

Written by Tanika Gupta and directed by Juliet Knight, White Boy is a much needed play that takes a look at the gritty realism of teenage culture in Britain today.

The play focuses on knife crime, and, with the government now proposing to introduce metal detectors into some schools, the play certainly makes a strong case against carrying “a blade” for self-defence. But Gupta also explores the themes of identity and teenage violence - it is about who you are as a teenager and your place in society.

However, this identity also moves beyond the issue of personal identity and tackles your identity as it relates to your race. Ricky finds himself caught between Flips and Sorted, and doing his best to stay loyal to both parties. An unflinching moment is when Flips refers to Sorted as a ‘refugee monkey.’

Gupta succeeds in her ability to capture the teenage street language. It is punchy, raw and racy, and adds humour and colour to the dialogue. The set design adds an edge to the play because of the symbolism a school gate adds to the play; their school is where they meet and discover themselves.

I’ll never forget the point of no return when Flips is stabbed and knife crime becomes real on the life stage. It is no longer what happens to others but I, as an audience member, I am now part of it.

This is the first time I'll see a play and witness theatre audience with teary eyes. It is a gripping and moving play because of the playwright's ability to convey the mixed emotions which teenagers experience as they try to define their place in society and among their friends.

The play is energetic and the young cast is a delight and easily likeable. From the confident and flirty Zara (Venetia Campbell) to Shaz (Peyvand Sadeghian), also a loud mouth but knows her limits.

Ciaran Owens is menacing as Flips and Luke Norris is brilliant as Ricky; often bringing light-hearted humour to the play with his ability to speak Jamaican Patois, which is entertaining.

The topicality of the play makes it a riveting production; it is concise and cannot be ignored but taken in and digested by all because it brings the epidemic of ‘knife crime’ closer home.

The production is sometimes spine-chilling, but without a doubt, White Boy is also an arresting production that leaves you questioning your role in the lives of the youth around you.

Image: Chris Ridley

The Magic Flute (The Young Vic) Nov 2007

Opera has never been my idea of a night out. Despite the spectacular elements of enchantment attached to it, I have never been eagerly drawn to it. While I appreciate the talent and energy that emanates from Opera singers whenever I have spared any precious minutes of my time to watch it on television, I have never been intrigued by it. By now you get the idea that it takes a lot to get me to change my mind.

The Magic Flute, Mozart’s most famous operatic piece comes to the Young Vic but with a twist he never envisaged. Adapted and directed by Mark Dornford – May, this production has an ensemble of South African singers and musicians. This production gives you a different image of the post-apartheid South Africa.

So the story goes; Tamino is a young prince from a distant country, rescued from his own nightmares by the attendants of the Queen of the night. He is employed to help rescue Pamina, the Queens daughter, whom she claims has kidnapped by Sarastro. Accompanied by Papageno, the mischievous bird-catcher, who wants love in his life, Tamino gets a magic flute for protection on his journey. Soon they come in contact with Sarastro and find out for themselves, he is not the evil man the Queen of the night claims he is. The young prince soon falls in love with Pamina, who is equally smitten by him. He also decides to become one of Sarastro followers. The stage is set for the trial to decide the fate of the young lovers.

If you are expecting an orchestra, get ready to be surprised. Mandisi Dyantyis, is the conductor, in a T-shirt and combat trousers, he conducts members of cast who are playing marimbas. As if that was not shocking enough, the stage of the Young Vic has been transformed into a different world. With bamboo sticks holding up the stage in a trapeze form, drums hanging above and fire coming from below as the story unfolds.

Mhelekazi Andy Mosiea and Philisa Sibeko are brilliant in their respective roles as Tamino and Pamina. Zamila Gantana is the hilarious Papageno. Pauline Malefane is astounding as Queen of the night, her voice and sheer stage energy, takes your breath away. Colourful and amazing costumes, especially when Pauline Malefene comes on stage dressed in weaves of raffia add zest to the production.

If you are expecting the high octane dance songs and sounds of South Africa, from shows such as Umoja, then this isn’t for you. However, it has its moments with raptous drum sounds. The songs and voices of the singers reverberate throughout the theatre. Despite the odd clumsy dance routines, The Magic Flute will leave you spellbound and nourished, and the ingenious use of bottles to create soaring melodic sounds will leave you wanting more.

Image: Keith Pattison