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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Seize The Day
Tricycle Theatre Autumn 2009

Kwame Kwei-Armah has written an amiable fable about black politics today that doesn't have quite the bite he may have wished, but offers a lot of fun along the way.

A black TV reporter happens to catch a mugging and fight off the mugger on camera, and briefly becomes a law-and-order and responsible-black-men celebrity. A local black power broker suggests that, since recent events have shown that anybody can become Mayor of London, our hero let himself be groomed for the 2012 race.

So the play for a while turns into a contemporary black version of the 1972 Robert Redford film The Candidate, with his advisors and handlers shaping and packaging the product so that little of the man himself remains. But, partly through meeting the kid he stopped in mid-crime, the candidate develops his own ideas about his responsibilities to the community and the message he wants to deliver.

So now the play becomes will-he-or-won't-he. Will he be true to his own values, even if that means losing the chance at real power, or will he go for the power first and then use it for his ends?

Either ending could be made satisfactory, and the one Kwei-Armah chooses works just fine. What keeps the play from really involving us is that the stakes are never very high.

The guy is neither pure enough that compromising would be a tragic sell-out or enough of a potential leader that giving up the chance at power would be a major loss for the world. Kwei-Armah has made the play a little too safe for any of it to really matter.

What he has done along the way is effectively translate the satire of the 1972 Redford movie into contemporary black terms, so that many in the audience respond with wicked delight to the reminder that their leaders and representatives can be just as venial and corrupt as any white politicians, while everyone can take note that the real world of people like the candidate or the kid can't be understood or summarised by sound bites from any source.

The playwright acts as his own director and, an actor himself, is particularly strong at guiding his cast past the two-dimensional stereotypes the characters might have become to rounded and complex people. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith lets us see all the hero's shallowness and naivete while also believably letting him learn and grow in a hurry. Ami Ameen repeatedly surprises us with the boy's refusal to remain predictable. and Karl Collins resists the temptation to make the power broker a simple villain.

Indeed, everyone in the cast has a moment or two of surprising us with characterisations that are not as simple as they first seemed - and when everybody gets it right, much of the credit must go to the director.

The only disappointment Seize The Day may offer is that you may leave wishing it had been sharper-edged than it is.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Seize the Day - Tricycle 2009