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Theatre 503 presents

 

SLAVES

 

Writer: Rex Obano

 

Director: Nadia Latif

 

Design: Lorna Ritchie

 

Lighting: Michael Nabarro

 

Sound: John Leonard

 

Theatre 503

 

26 Jan – 20 Feb 2010

 

 

 

 

A review by Jafar Iqbal for EXTRA! EXTRA!

Theatre 503 is renowned for two primary things. Firstly, it is one of the champions for new writing in London, offering a wealth of opportunity to writers on the cusp of breaking out. Secondly, the 503 has always carried with it a dedication to creating bold and fearless theatre. More often than not, you tend to get both together – writers like Joe Penhall showed us that in the last ten years; Sarah Kane before then; and Caryl Churchill, to name just one, before her.

So no surprise then, that the 503 is scouring for that next fearless writer; and out of their 503Five initiative comes this play – Slaves – by Rex Obano.

Slaves follows the lives of the E Wing at Wandsworth Prison – namely the collision between inmate Jenks (Beru Tessema) and new prison officer Chris Jackson (Adetomiwa Edun). The injustices and prejudices of prison life come to a head in an intense two-and-a-half-hour performance. When Chris enters the E Wing, he is launched head-first into a world of racism, violence and corruption – it starts to destroy him and the people around him. This isn’t just a story about the fictional Chris Jackson character, but an unabashed mirror on the current prison system.

Shouldering the play as our link to the prison world, Edun as Chris is fantastic. He is able to change the inflection in his voice and facial expressions brilliantly, channelling that suppressed frustration and anger needed to fully give justice to the character. His performance did feel exaggerated at times but, for the most part, it was a joy to watch. The two characters in direct conflict to Chris (Jenks and Reuben) are also portrayed excellently by Tessema and Cornell S. John, respectively. John, in particular, has a mesmerising stage presence and the audience is drawn to him every time he appears. Paul Bentall, who is superb as violent prison officer White, does get lost amongst the shuffle somewhat. The White character is not as important in the grand scheme of the play, and giving him more importance may have enhanced the play even more.

Along with the character of White, I felt that some of the other cast members were also under-utilised. Owen Oakeshott, as Con, is absolutely fantastic. He is very much the comic relief of the play, but is able to counterbalance that with some very powerful and emotional scenes. The confrontation between Con and Reuben in the second act, where the reason for Con’s incarceration is finally revealed, is riveting theatre and reinforces the fact that he should perhaps have had a bigger role. Similarly, Scarlett Johnson is excellent as Chris’ girlfriend Jessica, but it is a very small role. Granted, increasing her role would stretch the play even longer, but not using the talent available to their full potential is a shame too.

Scriptwise, I think Obano is very successful. He is clearly a writer to look out for the future, showing flashes of brilliance with some very powerfully written scenes. At times, the inexperience can be seen through some badly written exposition but, when it matters, the writing delivers the right punch. Nadia Latif also shows excellent prowess in her direction, making fantastic use of a very large stage. What stood out technically was the simplistic staging and props. Other than two mesh cages, a table and chairs, the stage was empty; and all this empty space made sure that the audience’s focus always remained on the actors. A very wise decision.

The music used during scene changes was a little questionable, in my opinion; I found it a little too loud and it didn’t seem to fit with the style and content of the play. Lighting, however, was very well used. Nothing was ever too emphasised, but subtle changes in the lighting gave the stage an interesting ambience that added to the show.

Slaves was fantastic at points – most points – and for that, the show definitely gets a thumbs up from me. Obano definitely shows promise and it’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here. Though the inexperience in his writing does show at points, that same inexperience gives the writing a rawness that is a pleasure to see. New writer on the cusp of breaking out? Check. Bold and fearless writing? Check. A great night out? Rex Obano, Theatre 503 and Slaves get three ticks.

 

 

Times: Tues – Sat 7.45pm (Sat 13th Feb 6.30pm) / Sundays 5pm

Tickets: £14/£9 concessions (Tuesdays: Pay What You Can)

Theatre503 Latchmere Pub, 503 Battersea Park Road, London SW11 3BW

Box Office: 020 7978 7040

http://www.theatre503.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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