Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, London SE1
Opened 8 March, 2010

The Royal Court takes outreach seriously. Over the next six months or so, it will be staging four plays in an otherwise empty retail unit in the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, an unlovely 1960s-built lump hard by a major south London junction. Enter through the upper ground floor doors by the Tube station and there – next to the advice centre, opposite PriceMark, kitty-corner from the Polish café – is the Court’s “Theatre Local”, its windows papered over, filled with an assortment of chairs and sofas. The next three shows will transfer straight from the Court’s Theatre Upstairs programme, but the season begins with a revival of debbie tucker green’s [sic] 2008 play random [sic again], about the sudden and unforeseen impact of knife crime on a black London family.
When I reviewed the play on its première, I was impressed by its move away from what had previously struck me as self-conscious over-writing on tucker green’s part; this revival by original director Sacha Wares confirms that impression. Actor Seroca Davis enters through the main doors, dressed casually in a green tracksuit top, and stands in the light from a couple of unfussy spots to deliver the 50-minute solo piece. She shifts between the characters of a Brother, Sister, Mum and Dad with slight changes of posture, vocal register and accent, but nothing ostentatious. It is entirely in keeping with an account of what is an utterly ordinary day – Sister in her office drudgery, Brother dawdling to school, Mother shopping – until the family are apprised piece-meal of an event at lunchtime that has left Brother lying in a police morgue. The low-key yet entirely focussed performance of Davis competes with, and effortlessly overcomes, noises from the concourse outside, exactly the kind of banal socialising which had earlier been recounted in the play.
In another play currently on the London fringe, a far-right politician character remarks that public debate about “knife crime” is code for “We’re frightened of black people”. There is a danger of portraying this play, in this venue, as taking the subject matter closer to its “natural constituency” in a patronising, slumming way. However, the overall season programming and the Court’s already obvious commitment show this up as the lazy, prejudiced thinking it would be.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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