Set in Peckham, written by ten playwrights, including Alice Birch, Roy Williams and Lucy Kirkwood and staffed entirely by community actors from the area, Peckham: The Soap Opera is an example of something trying to be everything and ultimately not quite hitting the mark.
Although the cast are not professional actors, and you have to give credit for the fact they rehearsed this around full-time jobs, and probably had less time than their counterparts, a much firmer hand from director Ola Animashawun is very much needed. There are large gaps between scenes and some sections (such as the ill-advised final song) could be cut easily, while the denouement isn't balanced out well at all, provoking laughter where it should create tension.
The acting is wildly uneven, and there's a real disparity between some of the performances. A quick Google reveals that Simon Balcon, who plays property developer James, is - or was - an actor – and it shows. He handles his scenes with ease and nuance, holding things together for the less experienced. However, the best performance of the night comes from the fantastic Kola Bokinni, who charms and amuses as the laid back Joey, who pops up in many a scene with a dry aside. Alice Fofana, too, impresses as sparky hairstylist Lashanna, as does Christopher Glover as grumpy shop owner Amir.
There are plenty of clever lines – the use of the word 'Dench' for one is unexpected – and this is a fun watch on the whole, but the story is very much a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. With each playwright tasked to write just five minutes each, the play doesn't feel cohesive, and although it clearly has appeal for those from the area, it's not particularly something you'd want to return to.
While Peckham: The Soap Opera certainly manages to take a look at a range of the kind of characters who might spend time in this up-and-coming area, it's hard not to think that in another world, something much more subtle and well-paced could have been put together, rather than this slightly paint-by-numbers effort.
- Miriam Zendle