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Oxford Street

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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All eyes will be on the West End transfer this week of Polly Stenham’s That Face, but the Royal Court’s Young Writers’ Programme has plenty more to be proud of, not least the developing career of Levi David Addai, whose Oxford Street in the Theatre Upstairs is another sharp and funny report from the front line of cosmopolitan everyday aspiration.

David Addai’s first play, 93.2FM, put his characters through the wringer of rivalries and friendships in a local radio station. He has since extended his range into the sustained domestic comedy of House of Agnes for Paines Plough (with a great central role of the displaced Ghanaian mother).

Oxford Street is a behind the scenes look at life in the security office of a sportswear store. As in 93.2FM, Christmas is around the corner, which adds spice to the discussion of comparative rates of pay (variations hover just above the six pounds an hour mark) and the possibility of shoplifting.

Every shade of British nationality is represented, from the Ghanaian “loss prevention” manager and his black and Polish junior officers, to the Essex girl shop manager and her Indian and Brazilian assistants. “Who do you have to represent Christmas, then?” one of them asks; “Jesus Christ” is the incredible reply in the secular hubbub.

So confident is David Addai in the scoring of his conversational back chat that he has omitted any kind of plot development. Instead, the pleasures of the play reside in its idiomatic swing and energy of disappointment, its David Storey-like concentration on the physical tasks involved.

So, Dawn Walton’s fizzing production is designed by Soutra Gilmour as the shop itself, with the audience dotted around the environmental reality of Total Sports on white plastic stools among the racks Arsenal shirts (of the old red and white “O2” variety; this is not the hippest of retail outlets), running vests and bubble-soled trainers.

The pace slows but only so you can relish the detail in the performances of Preeya Kalidas (last seen as the narrator in Joseph) as the Brazilian assistant, Kristian Kiehling as the sulky full-time Pole, Cyril Nri as the delightfully philosophical manager, and Nathaniel Martello-White and Shane Zaza as trapped young dogsbodies. Ashley Walters of So Solid Crew puts another feather in his cap as an older employee straining at the leash.

- Michael Coveney


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