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Kali Theatre Company presents

BLACK-i

 

Writer: Sharon Raizada

 

Director: Poonam Brah

 

Designer: Alice Hoult

 

Oval House Theatre

 

19 Oct – 6 Nov 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

A review by Jafar Iqbal for EXTRA! EXTRA!

In its twenty years, Kali Theatre Company has created quite the niche for itself in contemporary British theatre, and can be counted on as one of the platforms to showcase the best in rising talent today. Yes, this is a theatre company interested in the work of female South Asian writers, but that can’t take away from the fact that Kali has been instrumental in the nurturing of actors and directors too, and the progress all these individuals have made since their experiences at the company speaks volumes. Next on their agenda is Black-I, a play newly-written by Sharon Raizada and on stage for the first time at the Oval House Theatre. Following a common trend in Kali’s work, this new production explores the place South Asians have in modern Britain. The slight twist this time round is not just that the South Asian in question is a working class Bengali teenager, but that we’re also plunged into the world of an upper class white teenager too.

It is the story of Rose and Naz, two young people from opposite sides of the social spectrum who find themselves meeting on a roof. Both have arrived there in their own form of escapism and, after early problems, the two begin to get along and become fast friends. Through a one-scene first act, we learn about the lives of these two kids, both with aspirations and for greater things, but both trapped by the world they live in. As they get closer towards the end of the first act, hope that they can escape their worlds becomes more of a possibility; and whether they act upon their wishes sets us up for the final half.

It’s probably apt to talk of the play in halves because, in my opinion, it really was a game of two halves. Where the first act set us up nicely with some good writing and strong acting, the quality seemed to suddenly digress in the second act. What made the first act so good – namely the comfortable two-character structure and the darkness of the piece – was disrupted with the introduction of a new character (Rose’s mum) in the second, but that did not result in the heightened conflict it was probably meant to. And considering the two scenes ran in real time (with nothing to suggest otherwise), there were glaring inconsistencies. How these two teenagers could develop such a strong relationship in such a short of space time seemed unbelievable, as did their complete desperation towards the end. Even smaller things like the lack of drunkenness after the two had gone through a bottle of vodka in the space of minutes took away from a situation that was meant to be etched in reality.

But while these criticisms could be placed on the shoulders of the writer, the strength of the script in places is also something Raizada should be flagged up for. What the writer did best with Black-I was to create two well-rounded characters who we believed in. Though the relationship they built seemed very forced at times, as individuals they shone. Raizada has done a fantastic job of building similarities between the white upper class and South Asian working class, and gives us two characters we’re instantly drawn to.

The writing of two characters is, of course, never fully appreciated until those shoes have been filled by good actors, and good actors is what we’ve got here. The stand-out performance for me came from Gina Abolins, as Rose. Playing a very complex and emotional character, she excelled beyond expectation. Waleed Akhtar is not far behind as Naz, with an equally great performance that moved effortlessly between comedy and despair. Louise Bangay makes her entry into the piece in the second half as Cate, Rose’s mum, and does a good job. Though I wasn’t a big fan of the character itself, Bangay is still good in her performance.

Poonam Brah’s direction is also one to be commended, and she made fantastic use of a very large space. Set design was incredible, with the stage converted very authentically to a rooftop, and Brah uses that to create some very good direction. Obviously, kudos also go the set designers, as well as those responsible for some excellent use of lighting and sound.

Black-I  was very close to being a very strong production, but the promise of the first half seemed to falter in the second. There are definitely flashes of the talent that Sharon Raizada has to offer, and, will offer, and fantastic lead performances keep the audience engaged; but, ultimately, this play suffers from inconsistencies and, at times, unbelievable scenarios. What can be taken away from this is that this is a play involving rising talents; and though it may not be the strongest effort, it is the baseline for many of these artists to move forward.

 

Tickets: £12 / £6 concessions

 

Performance Days: Tuesday – Saturday

Oval House Theatre, 52-54 Kennington Oval, London SE11 5SW

http://www.ovalhouse.com

Box Office: 020 7582 7680

 

 

 

 

 

 

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