Tricycle Theatre, London NW6

Opened 2 November, 2009


Playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah has an interest that is both intelligent and passionate in the various debates about the future of the black British community. I’m afraid it sounds glib to say that perhaps he needs to take more of an interest in writing plays, but it’s not wholly unwarranted. The last of his trilogy at the National Theatre, Statement Of Regret in 2007, was not so much a dramatisation as simply an enactment of the debate on the matter of reparations, and now Seize The Day chronicles the campaign of an imaginary near-future black candidate for the London mayoralty in terms of conversations rather than events.
Of the two crucial moments which more or less bookend the play, the first – when television presenter Jeremy Charles punches a black youth committing a street assault, and so becomes not just a celebrity but a hero of sorts – is seen on a video prologue, and the second – his keynote speech to a major conference at which he is due to announce his candidacy – happens offstage between scenes. The rest of the time we see Jeremy talking: with his wife (white), his mistress (black), the youth he punched out and the various members of the lobbying campaign who have adopted him as their “face”. The talk is for the most part lively (although once again Kwei-Armah slips in a number of undigested quotations, from poet Henry Reed among others), and the character of street youth Lavelle in particular is a fine creation: an Alfred Doolittle for our times, with unapologetic straight talk instead of brass-necked charm, but at least as smart as anyone he encounters. Kwei-Armah’s own direction, too, keeps the characters moving as they speak, but none of it amounts to action as such.
The protagonist’s central conflict between personal integrity and political expediency, with the added dimension of race, is similar to that of August Wilson’s Radio Golf, seen at the Tricycle last year. As Jeremy, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith mars a strong performance by overdoing the naively over-expressive body language. Karl Collins is a used-rhetoric salesman as “adviser” Howard, and Aml Ameen as Lavelle is simply magnetic in every one of his scenes. But nothing alters the basic fact that this play is all “tell” and no “show”.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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