Bangers at Soho Theatre – review

Chris Sonnex’s production runs until 2 July

Darragh Hand and Danusia Samal in Bangers
Darragh Hand and Danusia Samal in Bangers
© Toyin Dawudu

Bangers has been dubbed "gig-theatre" and feels it. Stuffy etiquette is out of the window here. People whoop and sing along to the tracks and the space is buzzing and teeming with life. A couple of weeks ago, this critic reviewed another play at the same theatre – The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs – which had a different atmosphere but a similarly enthusiastic audience. It seems Soho Theatre does a good job of programming shows that engage well with the public and have an exciting energy to them.

Aria, played by the writer Danusia Samal, and Clef, played by Darragh Hand (who recently performed in For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy) tell parallel stories, weaving in and out of each other's lives. Samal is nothing short of a genius. Her writing is poetic, funny, lyrical and sharp. She cuts to the core of the most painful and exciting human experiences, dealing with love, sex, death, and all that comes with the struggle of being alive, with a deep kindness to the people whose stories she tells. Her writing is uplifting – it bubbles and fizzes, and the feeling she pours into it is infectious. You come away with a love of humanity and a grin on your face, humming the songs as you go.

At the start of the show, the actors state that they are playing themselves. Though it is unclear if this is true, it certainly feels like it. Both Samal and Hand are tender, open and vulnerable performers, to a degree that is rare. Hand is especially striking for his emotional honesty and sensitivity – his performance dissects masculinity in comic and beautiful ways – while Samal gives a brave, funny and touching performance. Both actors play multiple characters and have impressive switches in accents and physicality, but more importantly, they both have deep empathy and understanding for every character they play, some of whom are complex and could have easily been portrayed as criminal or villainous had they been put in the hands of less capable performers and creative teams.

The play's backbone is the calm and almost fatherly presence of Duramaney Kamara, the composer, sound designer and third cast member – the DJ who narrates the action. His music underscores the story with just the right tracks at just the right moments, and injects a warm, fresh perspective. It is playful, humorous, and helps to make sense of the various emotions going on – Kamara really gets to the heart of what music can do. This critic was never into RnB and Garage music before, but you can be sure they will be playing this soundtrack on repeat now and bopping along.

Working with the music and words, Louise Kempton's choreography stretches the emotional depths without the need for physical intimacy. Everyday movements and small physical character traits marry up deftly with Zoë Hurwitz and Ellie Roser's set design, made up of large amplifiers which the performers climb on top of, inside of, and wheel around the stage to build the shifting dynamic of the narrative landscape. The movement culminates in the lowest lows and the highest highs, while threaded with the simple release of freestyle dancing. All three actors can dance but Hand's moves are particularly impressive and fun to watch.

The pumping gig atmosphere is brought together by Martha Godfrey's varied lighting design. Shadows give dramatic tension at the start of songs, and unbearable brightness amplifies points of shock. There is sharp comic timing which plays nicely with the audience and soft, empathetic use of colours that hugs the characters in their most tender moments. The whole creative team has infused the piece with a sense of love, care and forgiveness for oneself and for others. Bangers rides through the things we feel most keenly, and maybe never talk about, and explores the depth and breadth of the human condition. The addition of such a lively, warm-hearted audience makes it a holistic theatrical experience and a true masterpiece.