The clue is in the programme. A three-page interview with writer (vaunted George Devine Award winner Che Walker) then nine pages of notes, from Universal Kinship to Marmite, must be a record. It certainly explains why this engaging piece is such sprawling mess.
A typical night outside Camden Tube: The Frontline professes to tell a dozen different stories. Just the dozen? With a cast of 23, conversations run into, over and along each other and director Matthew Dunster has not orchestrated the necessary clarity. Many stories, though told, are left unheard. We knew that Mahmoud made an appeal to a youth only because said youth said so. What we heard was an oh-so hilarious comparison of Marmite to British democracy.
Simplistic ideas get laughs but little scrutiny. Camden seems peopled by a stringently diverse bunch of pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, and born again Christians, most with golden hearts (except the Christians who are an alleluia away from drug abuse and violence.) With the first of some embarrassingly inane songs the ensemble look like a sixth form drama project or an eggy Lionel Bart number with skunk instead of fresh muffins.
All this confuses the audience who clapped and whooped at every “fuck” regardless of context. Watching a Globe audience try to get down with the kids is as butt-clenching as watching your dad dance, and on Globe seats your butt is already occupied. More importantly, in this hilarious, heavy-handed appreciation of colourful London life many poignant moments are lost. When the audience cheers a 16-year-old wanting to become a whore like her dear mama, and when it giggles as a man takes a stand against a callous murderer, something has gone wrong.
The thing is, it is very watchable. As lippy lap-dancer Violet, Jo Martin is matched only by fabulous Naana Agyei-Ampadu as her precocious daughter. Paul Copley works wonders with a potentially tedious role of a sweet but deluded man. Tristram Gravelle is all too believable as the actor begging an agent to attend the Ephemera Theatre. There is no weakness in the vast cast, the singing is OK and there are lots of laughs; so you don’t worry too much about half-written stories or the small violent tragedies that unfold. As to Walker’s nerves about his use of heightened language and his perceived “connection” with Shakespeare? Ah, bless.
- Triona Adams
NOTE: The above review dates from July 2008 and this production's original run at the Globe.