Oval House, London SE11
Opened 6 March, 2008

On the strength of his first play 93.2 FM, seen at the Royal Court some 18 months ago, and now this co-production with Paines Plough, Levi David Addai has a simplicity, directness and openness of spirit that makes him both a powerful and a heartening writer of personal dramas.
The Agnes of the title is a matriarch about to retire to her native Ghana and leave her south London house in the care of her two twentysomething sons. Solomon, 26, is a humble shelf-stacker who has been all but cut off for daring to move in with his girlfriend, whose status in Agnes’ eyes as a “witch” seems largely due to her not being Agnes; Caleb, 22, has always been his mother’s favourite, went to university and is now something in the City… a mail-boy, as it turns out, and harbouring a secret relationship more shocking (to Agnes, at least) than that of his brother. We follow the family through the weeks before Agnes’ scheduled departure, as Sol’s relationship with his beloved Davina hits the rocks, Caleb has a crisis of his own and each petitions to be allowed to lead his own life free of Agnes’ endless commandments.
The foremost of these is not to walk in shoes on her nice white carpet. By laying a long strip of thick, snowy shag-pile the whole way across the space, designer Hannah Clark is tempting fate, especially as director George Perrin has staged the play more or less in the round so that half the audience will have to cross that carpet. Perrin also makes interesting use of space behind two banks of audience seating for secondary action.
Cecilia Noble makes a fine job of Agnes, one of those people who are martyrs in their own eyes and tyrants in others’; Anwar Lynch and Ludvig Bonin meet the challenge as her sons (although Lynch as Caleb is prone to delivering his lines in a slight gabble). Addai writes his characters’ most heartfelt emotions with the clarity and sincerity of a younger Richard Cameron; only the occasional word is overplayed. His Oxford Street, to be staged at the Court in May, sounds as if it takes a broader canvas; I can hardly wait.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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