John Boyega (Sam), Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (Jeremy Charles) and Karl Collins (Howard Jones) in Seize the Day Tricycle Theatre, Photo Tristram Kenton
Following on from Roy Williams, Kwame Kwei-Armah's skilfully written and thought provoking play, fittingly continues the Not Black and White season at Kilburn's Tricycle Theatre.
Jeremy Charles, a successful member of the black middle classes, has decided to run for mayor; thanks mainly to the advice of good friend/campaign manager Howard Jones. Yet Howard has his own agenda and is only biding his time until he can become mayor himself. Jeremy's white wife Alice hates the idea while his black mistress Susan thinks he'd be perfect, as he truly cares about the people and wants to make the city a better place for all. During what he thinks is an unproved street attack he meets Sam, an intelligent 18-year-old black boy who appears to be just another hood rat. Deciding to become his mentor, Jeremy aims to teach Sam the benefits of effecting change from the inside and how climbing the class ladder isn't always a bad thing. However Sam has his own ideas and sets out to school Jeremy on the damage men like him are doing to the black working classes. But as a friendship between them develops Jeremy is forced to make a life-altering choice - compromise his principles or become London's first black mayor?
While on the surface the play appears to be far more intellectual and political than Category B, at the heart of the story is a man dealing with issues of identity and racial responsibility; one that I particularly identified with and related to. Kwei-Armah has accomplishedly created Jeremy's dilemma uses characters that reflect numerous sides of the argument and while highlighting that even though middle class Jeremy still cares about black people he also includes Howard - who couldn't care less about the race and people he comes from. This makes for both an entertaining and challenging drama which is also full of comical lines that keep the audience consistently engaged and amused.
Taking the role of director, the talented playwright has also done a first class job transferring his play from script to production and the minimal but perfectly designed set by Rosa Maggiora, complements the direction excellently.
There are no weak links among the perfectly cast group of actors, but my favourite has to be Karl Collins as Howard. After previously seeing him as junkie/psycho Errol is Category B he has undergone a complete transformation and brings to life the egotistical yet likeable middle-class snob brilliantly. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is also impressive as Jeremy as is Aml Ameen as Sam who is carving out a name for himself as an accomplished theatre actor.
Kwame Kwei-Armah has successfully equalled (though not surpassed) Roy Williams' offering; so the heat is well and truly on for Bola Agbaje to produce a play on par with her predecessors – I sincerely hope she can live up to expectation.
By Kwame Kwei-Armah
Cast includes: Aml Ameen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Karl Collins, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Jaye Griffiths
ATN review of Category B
Listings information for Not Black and White Season