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Inner City Theatre Presents

Estate Walls

 

Written by Arinze Kene

 

Directed by Ché Walker

 

Oval House Theatre

 

 21 Sept – 9 Oct 2010

 

 

 

 


 

 

A review by Richard J Thornton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

I know I’ve written ‘Oval House Theatre’ as the venue for this show, but its action really happens in the courtyard of a council estate somewhere in east London. Either that, or Inner City have built one of the most authentic and absorbing sets I’ve ever encountered. It actually turns out to be the latter … Estate Walls follows a young black poet called Obi who’s trying to leave his troubled youth behind him and become a submarine engineer. He’s thwarted by his boyhood friends, Cain and Myles, who are more bothered about proving their status on the estate and trying to get rich quick via cocaine selling. Sub-plots include Cain’s difficulties with his girlfriend Chelsea, business interactions with crack-head Reggie and Myles’s (self proclaimed) prolific, and largely text message-based, love life. But if the content isn’t to your taste, the highly crafted movement, script and delivery will offer your senses plenty to savour.

The cast abound with authenticity and each character is immediately outlined via street-smart body language, leaving their speech to colour their inner thoughts. Each boy is a representation of how to get by on the dog-eat-dog estate: Daniel Green’s Cain, the booming alpha male, Ricci McLeod’s Myles, the chat-artist who can ‘sell water to a well’ and Daniel Norford’s Obi, the brooding presence whose sincerity demands authority. A few minutes spent with these young men and the atmosphere and personality of a London estate is revealed, its dynamics etched ever clearer by the entrance of Sophie Benjamin’s tough but loving Chelsea and Huss Garbiya’s erratic and pathetic Reggie.

The script is word perfect in its slanguage, and achieves the great feat of being both natural and poetic. Arinze Kene has sliced his dialogue straight from the lungs of the London streets, and seasoned it with Obi’s rhythmic poetry which Norford immediately makes his own. The climaxing duet between Chelsea and Obi provides the ideal situation for the words to find meaning, and there’s no surprise that abstract romantics breed physical passion, which, by the way, is executed seamlessly.

But when it comes to making a script fit your skin, there’s no tighter match than McLeod. He immediately naturalises the macho boasting of Myles - there’s no chink of light between the script and his delivery, and if he can prove this successful in whatever roles he plays in future, we may have the next Will Smith in the making. Nevertheless, he’ll have to take Ché Walker’s pinpoint direction with him. From the highly enunciated polysyllabic rants to the evasive sulking between walls and lampposts, Walker crafts a believable montage of physical beauty. The minimal cast is a masterstroke - no faceless gangs parading the stage, no weak and unnecessary familial cameos. The group is as tight as the writing, and as flowing as the lyrics that stream out of Obi’s mouth.

Now the set, oh the set – it must be one of James Cotterill’s finest. What would you find on an everyday estate? Concrete below you, a patch of poorly managed grass to your right, a bin, three bollards, a low brick wall, a lamp post, a white-plastic windowed block of brick flats towering above … welcome to the Oval House theatre – inside that is. The characters don’t act on stage, they live there, and they casually share their home with the crushed Coke cans, empty crisp packets and dying weeds creeping through the cracks. The actors own the set like a housewife owns a kitchen, and this is only helped by Matt Vale’s perfectionist lighting. It’s simple - bright sun in the day, a glowing sunset in the west for evening, and nothing but the buzzing orange lamppost once the night sets in. The light’s so natural you don’t even notice it at first, and once you do it’s a treat to add to the plethora that Estate Walls provides.

My only criticism of the piece is the question of its longevity. The plot itself was unremarkable, and Myles’s closing message struggled to find depth after his active (and successful) comic performance in the main. There were points when serious issues of knife crime were raised, but perhaps the cast were too entertaining for the weight of the warning to be carried, and the audience laughed over what was actually rather horrifying. Yet these are common criticisms of plays that try to do too much, and the fact that it might not make it as a blockbuster never hinders it from being great theatre. The acting is fresh, the poetry’s ripe and the set is a wonder in itself. This is emerging urban theatre at its sharpest and brightest.

 

 


Box Office: www.ovalhouse.com / (020) 7582 4680 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting      end_of_the_skype_highlighting
 
Oval House Theatre
52-54 Kennington Oval
London
SE11 5SW

Tuesday – Saturday 7.45pm

Tickets: £12, £6 (Concs) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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