Playfight - review

Blog by Henrietta Cullinan

TJ, Kai and Zara, are school friends who have been inseparable since childhood. Their relationship changes as they struggle with parental expectations at the same time as their own desires.

The two boys are involved in a fight, caught on cctv. Zara is physically hurt when trying to break it up.

The headmistress, instead of supporting them, divides them and disbands their friendship group. In chance meetings - in the street, in the playground - we hear from the characters two at a time, and their story unfolds.

The play seeks to present and then disrupt the stereotypes that society attaches to young black people, particularly males.

It opens with Kai, dressed in an outsize white puffer jacket, speaking from gangster heaven - immediately tempting us to make assumptions about the way he died.

"Landry Abelard and Iain Gordon give hugely expressive performances in the small black box theatre"

Through the dialogue between the characters, we learn a very different story and the tragic consequences of adultification [ie. treating black children as older than they are] and racism reveal themselves.

The titular conflict is at once a childish tussle between three friends, and the inner conflict of the three characters, particularly Kai. It drives him away from school, his home and into danger.

We follow his immense struggle as he tries to escape homelessness, violence, servitude and exploitation and return to his parents.

Racism is a constant presence, illustrated by the experiences the characters, the reactions of the headmistress and the past experiences of the children’s parents.

In the background are the adults in authority, parents, school and justice system. They are present but unable - or refusing - to help.

In an uncomfortable looking set designed by Eliandro Monteiro, illuminated cubes rapidly switch from playground equipment to heaven to chicken shop.

Costume changes, hoodies and blazers, hang on a picket fence down stage.

There are plenty of jokes - takeaway chicken is ‘actual food’ –in the very entertaining scenes. Landry Abelard as TJ glows with charm and concern, while Kai (Iain Gordon) shakes his head in distress and bemusement as events unfold.

Both give hugely expressive performances in the small black box theatre.

The play is based on an idea by Shereena Browne, the script developed and researched over a period of 18 months with actors familiar with the issues raised. The script was drafted and revised with input from young people connected with the production company, Orisun.

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