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Sixteen

By • Off-West End
WOS Rating:
Kensal House Estate, Ladbroke Grove

Kensal House Estate, right down the wrong end of Ladbroke Grove, is an art deco Grade II listed estate where, in the community rooms, SPID (Specially Produced, Innovatively Directed) Theatre Company are presenting the third of their ventures at this location.

Helena Thompson’s play was written on attachment to the NT Studio and is co-presented by the (relatively) near-by Gate. But it’s a grim disappointment. Only the rather sullen-looking local teenagers - are they with the show, or about to break it up? - supply any kind of frisson.

And the adventure of finding the place, and the too-brief excitement of being whizzed around on one of the four sofas and mattresses on casters in the playing area for no real reason, provide other minor distractions. Boy, do we need them.

Thompson’s play is an incoherent whinge about a girl’s sixteenth birthday party, her origins on this council estate squat, the mystery bruises she’s acquired, her parentage, and the involvement of a local black journalist. The narrative is arbitrarily changed so that it seems to contradict itself without offering a parallel scenario or a sense of an alternative version.

The cast in Phoebe Barran’s suitably arid production give it everything, from Hoda Bentaher’s mixed-up teenaged October and Chloe Watkinson’s emaciated on-site tomboy (two promising professional debuts) to Mark Frost’s scabrous Scottish alcoholic Dad.

There’s neat work, too, from Jean Marie Coffey as the troubled Auntie and Laurietta Essien as the journo. But the attempt to disguise poverty of imagination and execution with an interval tour of the dismal premises, and a gratuitous strobe-lit violent fracas at the end, is a dead give-away. The doors have knobs on, but the cupboard’s bare. I had an exciting trip home on London transport, though.

-Michael Coveney


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