The Young Writers Programme at the Royal Court is a source of much energy and bubbling activity in Sloane Square, and far too little of it has seeped into the core repertoire. A notable exception, though, is this engaging, enjoyable and highly promising new play set in a South London local radio station by first-time writer Levi David Addai, the best black writer the Court’s uncovered since Roy Williams.
As it happens, I saw 93.2FM as part of last year’s YWP Critical Mass initiative, and I thought then that the piece deserved a full showing. Even better, after the Theatre Upstairs run, the play will tour to young audiences in Cardiff, Birmingham, Liverpool and Brighton.
I have no doubt they will “shout back” at a play about music, live radio, aspiration, sexual rivalry, and staying true to yourself and your mates as vociferously as did a small element of the Court’s Press night audience. It was an exhilarating experience.
The station, Borough FM, specifically located in London SE13, is a neighbourhood venture started, and run by, Coach and Bossman. Coach has an idea of moving on and moving up with City FM, a bigger station whose absurd white representative – adopting black idioms and expensive designer trainers – calls by to track down his dude.
Coach’s sister is phoning in complaints about the men in her life. Bossman smells a rat and Coach is accused of disloyalty, of betraying his roots, while his shrieking girlfriend, Delisha, is playing away with Anton, aka Talent Scout, the hopeless but next-in-line DJ on the airwaves.
Not only does Addai manage his story line and dialogue stretches with some skill, taking the action across a live programme with off-mike showdowns and squabbles through a Christmas interlude and New Year’s party; he also hits on a real way to convey street argot and peer group behaviour without sounding false or stilted.
An air of easy, natural poetry sits on the dialogue and you can enjoy the richness of a slangy patois peculiar to its exponents while relishing the wonderful incongruity of, say, the reaction to the accusation that the personal and the professional cannot be mixed in broadcasting: “It works for Richard and Judy!”
Dawn Walton’s pitch perfect production features three of the YWP performers from last year and has worried at the rough edges to provide a really impressive debut play, with a fantastic rap/garage soundtrack. Ofo Uhiara as Coach is an imposing Sonny Liston-type bruiser with a soft centre when he realises that his heart might lead him to Lorna Brown’s steely but softly-spoken Patricia.
Much of the play’s energy and propulsion comes from Richie Campbell’s Bossman, while Emmanuel Idowu’s Anton provides the most pregnant pauses and hardest stares in town. Ashley Madekwe is hilarious as Delisha, too much and too beautiful, while Seroca Davis’s ferocious little sister and Will Beer’s white “happening” muso (a poor man’s Eminem) complete an outstanding cast.