New Century 2, Manchester

After the death of her brother, Paul, in a gang shooting Aisha (Clair Robinson) enrols in college seeking a way out of her deprived circumstances. This aspiration leaves her isolated from her community until Ramone (Dean Fagan) - a wounded friend of Paul’s - forces his way into her house. Ramone needs a refuge and the situation compels the couple to examine their mutual loss and possible attraction.

Frontline, written and directed by Victoria Ofovbe, crams so many themes into its limited running time that not all are explored satisfactorily. The influences that create a culture in which violence is tolerated rather than challenged are outlined but not analysed. The play works better as a study of damaged people seeking a possible relationship than an examination of the escalating nature of violence or the effects of frustrated masculinity.

Ofovbe’s scrutiny of the masculine inclination to use violence as a solution is helped by Fagan’s strong performance. He brings a real sense of menace to the role of Ramone. Prowling the stage with animal grace and even sitting - legs spread wide - in an aggressive manner. It is a telling moment when he finally breaks his thousand-yard stare and makes eye contact with Aisha.

Clair Robinson buries Aisha’s desperation and guilt under a street-wise exterior. She and Fagan show convincing chemistry working together.

In a way this brings out some of the weaknesses of the script. Ofovbe holds back from revealing motives and plot developments until the second half of the play by which time we have already formed conclusions and struggle with the new information. The attraction showed by the actors made me think that Aisha and Ramone had not formed a relationship because Paul was Alisha’s lover and I was confused when he was shown to be her brother.

The twists and turns towards the end of the play propels Frontline to a conclusion that feels contrived rather than developed. The play remains, however, a moving examination of people struggling to find comfort and an occasionally powerful description of urban life.

- Dave Cunningham