REVIEW: ANY WHICH WAY
By K.L John
Friday, November 14, 2008.
Any Which Way is, frankly, outstanding. From the opening to the close, the play takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster ride deep into the heart of violence and its impact on society. This is must-see theatre.
Stefan and Akin have known each other since they were kids. They have walked the same grey London streets where Akin now lies; he looks as if he could be sleeping, but the blood blossoming across his chest tells another story. It was Stefan who wielded the blade in a frenzy of anger, but as Stefan turns fugitive he blames everyone but himself.
Taking a close look at the life of a young man who needlessly kills, this is different theatre, in a good way. This isn’t just the tale of a good kid gone bad, it’s the tragedy of a family torn apart by grief and mis-communicated love and a sobering consequence.
David Watson’s drama depicts the impact of the crime on the perpetrator, their ‘loved’ ones, and those of the victim. It’s a chilling cautionary tale which, in leading man Kareem Dauda’s words, says "if you wanna be a badman, be prepared for a life of badness."
The play deals with the aftermath of the murder and considers how it was able to occur in the first place. Performed by a mix of professional actors and ex-offenders, the resulting sense of authenticity is key to Any Which Way being received well by the tough inner-city school kids for whom it was originally commissioned.
The use of language in the play is immediately striking. Foreign accents – those of immigrants – are heard from parents, which are adopted for effect by their children who are raised in London.
David Watson does not simply depict families’ losses, however, he delves into a mindset; how does a person’s understanding of right and wrong become so ambivalent that they are able to kill their best friend for ‘nothing’?
The production reveals the poisonous influence of a culture promoting violence as a route to self-esteem, an hour’s pay for an hour’s work considered unacceptable, and gangs encouraging childhood friends to look at one another as enemies.
Consequently, Any Which Way isn’t so much a show as an experience, Maggie Watson’s use of space is amazing and would do any home-makeover show host-proud. Audience members stand and move as voices emerge from behind, to the side and within the crowd as scenes materialise.
However close the theme may be to one’s life outside the theatre, inside it, everyone is involved. In much the same way as an altercation may take place in full view of a passer-by at a bus stop or on a train platform.
The theatre’s atmosphere is electric as generational frustrations are presented; mothers speak and heartbreak is laid bare. Not on stage while you sit at a comfortable distance, but right in front of you.
Also noteworthy is the presence of women in Any Which Way. Women characters are central to this piece; they are not grieving marginal characters, they speak and think and address the audience. A full range of emotions are displayed: anger, confusion, helplessness, fear, love and hope.
Clare Perkins, Aliciya Eyo and Doreene Blackstocke, the mothers and girlfriends in Any Which Way, battle for strength, display wisdom, and grow as characters in their own right. The women also shape the men’s actions, understanding and decisions. In this way, the play highlights the mutuality of the effect men and women have on each other’s lives, and the inescapable fact that this is what it means to belong to a community.
Any which Way thoroughly rubbishes ideas like violence is a masculine issue, or that men and women don’t need or affect each other throughout their lives.
In short, the play is fantastic: A product of the pioneering creative arts company Only Connect which works with prisoners, ex-offenders and young people at risk of criminality.
Maggie Norris, David Watson, Claire Perkins, Kareem Dauda and Andrew Brown – just to name a few - have created an excellent contemporary theatre experience which you’d be foolish to miss.
Any Which Way is playing at the Only Connect Theatre on Cubitt Street, London, UK, until 29th November. Tickets start at £10, call the box office on 0844 477 1000.
K.L John is The New Black Magazine's Francophone Correspondent.
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