Bola Agbaje's prize-winning first play, Gone Too Far!, vividly captured the racial tensions on London's streets. Her new play, the third in a season by black British playwrights, moves on to the big issue of immigration. But, while it has vigour, it leaves loose ends untied and feels more like the product of conscientious research than lived experience.
Agbaje's hero, ironically named Justice, is a Zimbabwean asylum seeker against whom the cards are heavily stacked. His chief advocate is a celebrity lawyer ill at ease working in an immigration advisory centre. The black Home Office bureaucrat dealing with Justice's case is a play-it-by-the-book pedant.
Even Justice's sister, Grace, having run up against a succession of brick walls including a Ghanaian pastor who offers only pious platitudes ends up advising him to go back to Zimbabwe.
I've no doubt Agbaje could cite many parallel cases from life and she certainly conveys the Kafkaesque labyrinth that confronts asylum seekers. Even so, you feel she ostentatiously loads the dice. Why, for instance, does Justice's lawyer go out of his way to antagonise the very people who might help his client? You also wonder why Justice's sister doesn't take her brother's case to the papers rather than pointlessly hoping to influence a minor official by having sex with him.
But, even if the play overstates its argument, it gets a splendidly pacy, fluid production from Indhu Rubasingham and is powerfully acted. Aml Ameen's Justice seethes with rage against the system and his sister. Karl Collins as the lawyer and Rebecca Scroggs as his impassioned student assistant also build a fine head of steam. And Cecilia Noble and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith epitomise the lack of harmony even among illegal immigrants. As in her previous play, Agbaje exposes the myth of the "black community". But I suspect her strength lies in writing about individuals rather than pre-selected issues.
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Guardian: Theatre review | Detaining Justice | Tricycle, London
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