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Seize the Day

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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After Roy Williams, Kwame Kwei-Armah is second up in the Tricycle’s black playwrights’ season, “Not Black and White,” and has directed his own lively look at a television celebrity’s bumpy campaign to become London’s first black mayor.

And why not? Over 40% of London’s population is black or Asian and, as somebody says, “Boris has shown you can walk in off the street” and do the job. But the campaign to install the middle-class reality TV star Jeremy Charles (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) is pitted with problems and internecine struggle.

First, his power-broking fixer, Howard Jones (Karl Collins), re-writes his articles in the press and disapproves of his determination to mentor the black hoodlum he faced up to in a street fight that interrupted one of his television broadcasts (the first of several filmed inserts in the action).

And second, he’s falling out of love with his white wife (Amelia Lowdell) and into romantic cahoots with his somewhat under-written lover Susan (Sharon Duncan-Brewster). Then there’s the campaign team wrangling between the Asian fundraiser Rav (Abhin Galeya) who’d prefer another candidate and the imperious, ruthless Jennifer (Jaye Griffiths).

When the hoodlum Lavelle (Aml Ameen) comes to call and begin a crucial “role model” debate with Jeremy, the narrative develops along two parallel lines: Lavelle becomes prime suspect in a robbery at the house; and then the (admittedly rather sudden) news that Lavelle’s uncle has been kidnapped in Israel pushes Jeremy into even further conflict with his own advisers.

The play resolves itself interestingly, if a mite predictably, as a battle between truth and expediency, a sense that political change comes at a price that is sometimes too high, and that the real issues are the simplest ones of a common humanity. This dilemma is superbly expressed in Holdbrook-Smith’s urgent and highly charged performance.

For all its awkwardness of construction, Seize the Day is an exhilarating low-down on black middle-class aspirations and lands a succession of neat grown-up satirical points against the Obama phenomenon and the role in public life of politicians like the Labour MP Diane Abbott (who features in the filmed insets and was in the first night audience) and racial equality head honcho Trevor Phillips (who doesn’t and wasn’t).


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