The Theatreguide.London Review
Soho Theatre Spring 2013
God’s Property may be new writing, but it seems to look back even further than its 1980s setting to the very beginnings of theatre. With a structure that follows Aristotle’s three unities, set entirely in a kitchen over the course of one evening, Arinze Kene’s new play has the feel and the scope of a classical tragedy.
It tells the story of two mixed-race brothers, Chima (a remarkable Kingsley Ben-Adir) and Onochie (Ash Hunter), who have not seen each other for a decade, Chima having just spent ten years in prison for murder.
Onochie, now eighteen, was only a child when his brother was convicted and does not even recognise him when he appears in their family home.
Left with only his white mother to help him through his difficult teenage years, in a Deptford filled with racial tensions and not a million miles away from the Brixton riots, Ono has been taken in by the racism that surrounds him in order to fit in.
Not only does he disclaim his half-Nigerian heritage and consider himself white, but he has actually become a skinhead.
It is in the interaction between the two boys, at once brothers and strangers, that the play really shines. Their tentative, burgeoning relationship is sensitively written and beautifully performed by both Hunter and Ben-Adir.
The latter in particular turns in a genuinely incredible performance as the charming and yet deeply wronged Chima.
He exudes a quiet, thwarted rage at all times, that is pitiful and unnerving in equal measure; he is like a ticking bomb, wearing his suffering with the same ease he wears his cardigan and preternaturally aged by the things life has done to him.
Kene’s writing ranges from the dizzyingly beautiful to the slightly bizarre. For the most part he has a great ear for dialogue.
Ono’s girlfriend Holly, played with fantastic comic timing by Chapel Street’s Ria Zmitrowicz, sounds like millions of girls you have really met and nothing like any girl you have seen on stage before.
But elsewhere the playwright strains too hard to sound natural, which inevitably has the opposite effect. Sections in which short lines cut continually across each other have clearly been learned by rote and seem jarring, but these are thankfully not too frequent.
The play’s ending cannot quite live up to the promise of its beginning, but the journey is so very, very worth it, to see three young actors at the top of their game and a piece of writing that is not only interesting, funny and moving, as if that were not enough, but which also has something to say.
God’s Property tells the kind of story that needs to be told and says things that need to be said – though it is depressing to realise how great this need really is, and the extent to which theatre is dominated not only by middle-class narratives, but by overwhelmingly white ones.
Remember Arinze Kene’s name. You’ll be hearing it again.
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Review - God's Property - Soho Theatre 2013