Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past few years, you will know that knife crime in the capital is a serious and escalating problem. And arts charity Only Connect have put themselves on the front line, working with ex-offenders to help them with their post-prison rehabilitation, in the process educating those who are in danger of following in their footsteps.
But this is no preachy T.I.E. Performed in the charity’s base, a former Baptist Church near Kings Cross, Any Which Way brings its audience eyeball-to-eyeball with the crimes, criminals and weapons that constitute the oft-stereotyped but seldom understood urban underbelly of contemporary Britain.
Stefan (Kareem Dauda) stabs his former friend Akin (Phillip Clarke) to death. At a loss what to do, he heads home and skins up. He visits his girlfriend (Alicya Eyo) before going on the run, leaving his devastated mother to ponder where it all went wrong. An encounter with Akin’s ghost by his own Father’s grave provides temporary spiritual relief, but there are few other voices of comfort.
If any fingers are pointed in David Watson’s powerfully written and lyrical drama, they are pointed at the city itself. Stefan’s mother (Clare Perkins), who came to London in hope, finds herself disowning her son after he becomes inexorably sucked into the violent cycle. There is a sense of Shakespearean tragedy to the whole affair, with palpable echoes of both Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet.
Deftly directed by Maggie Norris, the use of huge backwall projections, an eerie soundscape and an unstructured promenade arrangement strips the audience of the comfort of theatrical convention, and is mightily effective. And the cast are nothing short of sensational, hurling themselves into the play with the energy of prize fighters. When the towering Junior Miller delivers a monologue over Akin’s corpse, brandishing a knife and waving it inches from the faces of his awe-struck audience, there is a moment of sharp realisation – in theatrical terms, this is as real as it gets.