After its short run in Sloane Square, Bola Agbaje’s Gone Too Far! – winner of an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre – goes on to play a few performances next month at the Albany in Deptford and the Hackney Empire. It will therefore have a chance to reach audiences for whom it is specifically targeted.
This is important. Agbaje’s first play appeared in the Court’s Upstairs theatre in February 2007 – director Bijan Sheibani has assembled exactly the same cast -- as a result of a specific project to raise new black voices within the Young Writers Programme. It is an immensely vivid piece about national identity among a group of street kids on a South London estate.
In some ways this is West Side Story writ small without music – except for the snake-like hoodie dance sequences – with inter-racial strife and a dangerous knife, and it is definitely about status in relation to your peers and your roots. Roots and weaves: black African Paris (Bunmi Mojekwu) taunts her attitude-rich half-white Jamaican friend Armani (Zawe Ashton) with the reminder that she taught her about her weaves and “moves.”
The ninety-minute play’s axis spins on the renewed relationship between two brothers: British Nigerian Yemi (Tobi Bakare), working hard at his street credibility and cool exterior, and his taller, older brother Ikudayisi (Tunji Lucas) lately returned from school in Nigeria, mixing his native Yoruba with some misguidedly appropriated Americanisms.
The boys are sent out to buy milk by an offstage yelling mother – the comedy of this, like some of the close contact confrontations, does not work quite so well on the larger stage – and are caught up in local action. Eventually, an unserious fraternal scuffle is broken up by comedy policemen over-briefed on the acceleration of “black on black” violence.
In the play’s funniest scene, the brothers are barred – “No hoodies!” – from a grocer’s shop by a skullcap-wearing Bangladeshi British nationalist, and then a timid white OAP (Maria Charles), shredded with misplaced fear, crosses the stage and drops all her vegetables.
Motor mouth, fairly stupid Armani – brilliantly done by a non-stop, flagrantly physical Zawe Ashton – keeps the argumentative pot boiling; at one point, the stage dynamic is similar to the lovers’ tiff scene in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And Yemi’s concluding statement of cultural compromise in robes and baseball cap is both eloquent and optimistic.