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By Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson

Saturday, June 11, 2011.

We’ve become accustomed to media portrayals of Britain’s African and Caribbean youth as out of control killers, muggers and criminals – or Attack The Block style typecasts. This unfortunate and distorted view is a stark contrast to the teenagers introduced to us in Arinze Kene's impressive Little Baby Jesus.  Part of the London via Lagos Season, and promoted as a triptych of monologues it's actually much more.

Fiston Barek’s Kehinde; Akemnji Ndifornyen’s Rugrat and Seroca Davies’ Joanne recite their interlocking misadventures on the cusp between carefree adolescence and the bitter realities of maturity. They each have their own dilemmas – ranging from interfering grandmas, to mentally ill parents to peer pressure – and more. And peeling away the layers of swagger and bravado which wraps up the snatches of slang heard on buses, street corners and school corridors humanises these youngsters - and is the strength of Kene’s dialogue and his entertaining play.

Peppered with the cadence and intonation of their own [admittedly Londoncentric] language these kids’ stories soon evolve into darker explorations of loyalty, grievance, responsibility and adulthood. There’s sparkling comedy here though - and it’s hilarious - as Kene deftly captures the vernacular and colloquialisms of youth. The one-time Eastenders actor and award-winning scriptwriters’ talent is to shift gears smoothly from the carefree nonchalance of youth to the more sombre anxieties and concerns of adulthood.

Smart acting with fizzing and quick-fire dialogue, which perfectly echoes the zest of youth, this is budget theatre – a trio of actors and minimal fuss - but with top quality ingredients.  On the Oval Theatre's bare, floor level set [designed by Chris Gylee] with just a shaded blue back wall for perspective, these actors really have no hiding place – and shine even more brightly for it. Director Ché Walker’s discreet but adept direction gets the best out of his actors, none of whose performances are overblown.

There are flaws; on reflection some anecdotes these lively teenagers tell do not make much sense and their tales have a few holes. But these are minor blemishes really - mitigated for by strong performances and quality writing.

Little Baby Jesus
Written By Arinze Kene
Directed by Ché Walker
Until 15 June 2011

London via Lagos Season
Oval House Theatre
52-54, Kennington Oval
London SE11 5SW
Box office 020 7582 7680
Book online www.ovalhouse.com (no fee)

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