This year's Bruntwood playwriting competition winner, Vivienne Franzmann's Mogadishu provides the audience with many talking points, as you begin to question what would you do if it were you. The setting is an inner city school in London and the event which underpins the drama is played out for you to witness. Troubled teen Jason (Malachi Kirby) gets involved in a fight and when his teacher Amanda (Julia Ford) tries to intervene, he pushes her to the ground. Knowing that his nine lives are up, Jason plays the cat and his tutor - becomes the mouse - as he makes false allegations of racism against the idealistic and loyal woman.
So far, so good - as immediately you are drawn into the narrative as it twists and turns and the lies escalate until Amanda's reputation lies in tatters. Kirby convinces as he goes way beyond the stereotype of the domineering, yet fragile student. Likewise, Ford frustrates and fittingly as Amanda lives for this job and her young charges, whatever the cost. But Franzmann's writing, at times does rely on cliches which leave you with a sense of deja vu.
Self harm, suicide, bullying, domineering dads and inept school systems all rear their ugly heads and some of this convinces. But there are also times when you wonder if the story is an amalgamation of a variety of real incidents because it does reach breaking point in terms of credibility a couple of times. It also lacks small details which add greater impact - a staff room setting, for example would help the audience see how well respected Amanda is and a couple of scenes featuring Jason and his tutor before the incident would also fill in the blanks.
As it is, Mogadishu feels overdone in terms of melodrama as the ending is too over the top and rushed, thus removing any ounce of poignancy. There is also a link between two characters and a secret which would like fine in a soap opera but it jars here. Yet, this new piecealso feels underdeveloped in terms of characterisation and what makes these people tick.
But these shortcomings are outweighed by some great performances, which really bring some slow scenes to life. Fraser James' Ben has great comic timing and Farshid Rokey needs to pursue acting, as he makes a stunning stage debut as scared Saif. Shannon Tarbet is memorable as Amanda's daughter but her character purely serves as a plot device. Savannah Gordon-Liburd portrays the sheep mentality that many of us adopt when under pressure with ease and she is assured throughout.
As commendable as Mogadishu is, I think it would work much better as a pacy 90 minute studio piece because there are many scenes which act as filler. Flawed then, but thought-provoking and worth seeing as it leaves you with plenty to talk about afterwards.