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God's Property

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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In the middle of this new co-production from Talawa, Soho and the Albany, there's a sexual confrontation so raw, tender, funny and beautifully written and played that you can't believe you're watching something that's evolved from a mere workshop.

And yet that is exactly what's going on. Playwright Arinze Kene developed this riveting piece - set in the 1982 Deptford of unemployment, riots and racial tension - on a special commission and six-month residency, and he's struck gold.

Ash Hunter's skinhead Onochie, son of an Irish mother and Nigerian father ("I'm mixed - made in Britain") is wanting to go to "the next level" with Ria Zmitrowicz's magnificently sullen and pouting young Holly, a girl suspended between virginal defiance and carnal curiosity.

The only trouble is that Onochie's elder brother, Chima (a wonderfully relaxed performance by a bearded, track-suited Kingsley Ben-Adir), has just come out of prison after allegedly killing her god-daughter. Chima's task is to re-integrate with his sibling; and educate Holly, as it turns out, in the joys of Nigerian home cooking.

The resolution of all these tensions is set against a growing sense of unease on the estate outside where knives and dogs are a constant in the social mix and tying people to chairs and threatening to burn their house down is the nearest you get to neighbourliness. Bradley Gardner puts in a last scene appearance as the ugly face of tribal vengeance.

Admittedly the play falls into the bulging category of more bad news from the front line of underclass misery and deprivation. But there's no special pleading or woolly thinking: the writing is pin sharp and true, the performances bang on the money and Michael Buffong's production, designed by Ellen Cairns, a little gem.


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