The Theatreguide.London Review
Off The Endz
Royal Court Theatre February-March 2010
It's a familiar plot outline, especially among young playwrights - a happy couple are visited by someone from their past who shakes things up and exposes how fragile their relationship or security is. Bola Agbaje's new play follows the formula in many respects while striking out into new territory in others.
Sharon and Kojo are an upwardly mobile black couple - she's a nurse, he works in the City - ready to move out of their council estate ('the Endz') and buy a house. Now from their rougher past comes David, newly out of prison and totally unrehabilitated.
Improbably, he has no sense whatever that acceptable ways of talking to strange women have changed or that the mode of the streets isn't quite appropriate to an office setting.
Somewhat more probably he has no patience with the parole system or the prospect of getting a job, and can't wait to get into instantly profitable drug dealing.
Though they despair of him, his friends have problems of their own, their middle-class aspirations having led them into mountains of credit card debt, and Kojo is tempted to invest in, if not actually join, David's thriving new business, with predictably bad results.
The fact that Agbaje's dramaturgy is not very complex turns out to be less of a handicap than you might expect. Yes, all the secondary characters - a feisty secretary, a bored bureaucrat, a street kid - are clichés of near cartoon proportions, but playing them that broadly brings considerable energy to the play.
It's a little more troublesome that the three central characters are stereotypes with little depth, and the actors - Daniel Francis as Kojo, Lorraine Burroughs as Sharon and Ashley Walters as David - have to work hard to flesh them out and make them real.
Ultimately, the play and characters may never really transcend the formula, but translating the formula into the black urban setting does give it a lot of freshness and theatrical energy.
Certainly the largely young and black audience at the Royal Court was thrilled to see a world they recognised being put on stage and shown the respect of being made the subject of a play - even to the extent of sometimes responding to David as the hero of the piece, rather than as the dangerous and pathetic anachronism the playwright clearly intends.
It is there - in showing an audience a world they too rarely find depicted with sympathy in theatre or film - that the play's power lies.
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