REVIEW: OFF THE ENDZ
By Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson
Wednesday, March 3, 2010.
The love triangle at the heart of Bola Agbaje’s tense - yet comedic - Off the Endz is trivial compared to the weighty matters these three young people grapple with. With Jeremy Herrins’s solid, no-nonsense directing, which brings out the mundane squabbles of Ashley Walters as David, Kojo, (played by Daniel Francis) and Sharon (Lorraine Burroughs), Agbaje’s perceptive writing draws out the implications of the short cuts to happiness many young people pine for.
The award-winning writer isn’t frightened to tackle grand themes - loyalty, redemption, greed, temptation - and there is a lot to commend in this second piece for The Royal Court. At 75 minutes, with thirteen punchy, concise scenes, this drama sparkles - sharp, ‘right on time’ street language vying with easy to understand dialogue delivered perfectly by three actors who believe in their roles.
One side of the love triangle is content to pursue a life of crime, the other two seem happy with an upwardly mobile but superficial life of credit card fuelled consumerism. Which outlook and personality will dominate? Will it be David’s brash and aggressively ambitious, cut any corners philosophy? Or Sharon and Kojo’s play-the-system, soul-destroying and spiritually demeaning life of leather settees and plasma screen TVs? Their ambitions, with different routes are actually the same and equally unsustainable, as they are morally challenging and ultimately demeaning. All three are at risk of losing it all. One through the ever-present threats of jail or violence; the couple with the possible loss of their fantasy lifestyle – literally a house of credit cards.
Jeremy Herrin's (Statement of Regret) orthodox direction doesn't get in the way, and the Ultz (Pied Piper] designed set matches the high tech living of Kojo and Sharon - leather settees and modern kitchens gliding along the stage to a techno musical score and flashing lights (Jo Joelson, Emma Laxton).
Reprising his Bullet Boy role, Ashley Walters is typecast as obnoxious and brash David. He’s also the most charismatic and fully-rounded character. Initially destitute and penniless, he ends up the potential lifeline for his old friends.
Daniel Francis’ Kojo is staid and reserved as he negotiates the emotional minefields with the passionate David. It's a performance of control and restraint, ready to explode at any time - manoeuvring between Sharon and David’s not yet doused sexual chemistry.
Lorraine Burroughs’ who is nominated as best supporting actress for her superb performance as Camae in Katori Hall's The Mountaintop, does little more than personify the stereotype of the grasping woman. But she can obviously do better with more solid material.
It's a brave piece at an early stage in Bola Agbaje’s promising career and she definitely has a good ear for dialogue and speech; watch how she deftly compares the street slang of jailbird David with the refined speech of Sharon and Kojo. This production is depicted hilariously in a scene between David and receptionist Keisha (Madeline Appiah) that captures the lifestyles and temperaments of David and Kojo - and by extension the separate worlds they occupy.
There are weaknesses though. Agbaje’s characters, with the exception of David, are one-dimensional, and her story sprints to a predictable conclusion. With commissions from theatre companies Paines Plough and Tiata Fahodzi, Agbaje is unarguably a very promising playwright but she crams a lot of ideas into this piece. This is a sketched out approach which constrains the depth, light and shade of the arguments she is straining to flesh out. She asks the questions but doesn’t have any answers; she dramatizes the consequences but doesn't tackle the causes or offer any solutions. Perhaps, it’s an ending which matches the unsettling times she has portrayed.
Photograph: Tristram Kenton
Off the Endz
by Bola Agbaje
Jerwood Theatre Downstairs
Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square
020 7656 5000 or online at www.royalcourttheatre.com
until 13 March 2010