In Off the Endz, Sharon (Lorraine Burroughs) is a hard-working nurse living with a well-intentioned, aspirational businessman Kojo (Daniel Francis) whose best mate David (Ashley Walters), a habitual offender, and Sharon’s former boyfriend, has just come out of prison.
The title refers not so much to the state we’re in as the estate we’re on, as Agbaje takes a scalpel to the rows and tensions between young blacks trying to find ways of improving themselves.
But she doesn’t flinch from some pretty nasty stuff; David is a foul-mouthed, abusive scumbag, with Neanderthal social attitudes and a leech-like dependency on his friends’ hospitality.
As directed by Jeremy Herrin and designed by Ultz on an ingeniously lit (by Jo Joelson) stark, sleek and ingeniously changing scene of kitchen, office reception areas, estate playground and police station, the 80-minute fracas assumes a mythic quality of figures in a bleak landscape.
Maybe Agbaje should soon start broadening her canvas and writing more characters. But her subject is so rich and her vision of it so dense, the startling scenes of confrontation and dispute are more than enough for now. And she brings a sharp new language to the stage in an ongoing debate about identity and what exactly the choices are for these people.
The acting, too, is almost embarrassingly raw, in a good way, with Walters pushing us to the limit with his cascade of appalling remarks first to an office secretary (feistily done by Madeline Appiah) and a job centre receptionist (an unfazed Natasha Williams).
Of course, David’s tactics are all wrong and his idea of making a fresh start is to relapse into drug-dealing, which lands him in trouble with a group of gun-toting ten-year-olds on the estate.
The story takes some horrid twists but the acting is exceptional, especially from Burroughs, suspended angrily between Walters’ husky-voiced, full-on expressions of ignorance and Francis’ touching attempt to disguise Kojo’s misfortune when he loses his job and slips disastrously into debt.