*Set in Pembury Estate, Hackney where the writer Arinze Kene grew up, Estate Walls is an intensely funny take on street life in inner city London. The well-observed tale presents an old story in a fresh voice – a tongue that weaves in and out of street slang and romanticized verse.
The mouth pieces for the wordsmith come in the form of Obi (Daniel Norford) a young dreamer who wants to write his way to freedom from his surroundings, and his friends – the charismatic Myles (Ricci McLoed) and the destructive Cain (Daniel Green), who represent yet more walls closing in on him.
In the tight space, Myles and Cain plan yet another heist and Obi struggles to resist temptation but when crime is no longer his weakness, forbidden love for Chelsea (Sophie Benjamin) renders him enfeeble.
Where the characters grow weak, the writing stands strong. Having sat in the same young writers course as Kene, I know that he has learned about the tools of playwriting. This play, the debut produced by his production company Inner City Theatre, demonstrates that he knows just how to use them. He ticks all the boxes: engaging characters, comedic timing, high stakes, pressure cooker environment, obstacles, conflict…but it’s more than painting by numbers. Kene is clearly in control of his creative licence.
Dismayed at the inaccurate picture of estate life, Actor and Director Kene was determined to fill the gap. In the play, there is no more recognizable character than crack addict Reggie, played so convincingly by Huss Garbiya, who is so exuberantly jovial one minute and menacingly warped the next.
The play delivers social messages on poverty, violence, sexual health and race without preaching and the balance of light and shade means the audience is gripped in Kene’s vice from start to end. It’s a brilliant ride through a young world of bravado and machismo as seen by an eagle eyed and keen eared writer. It’s a world that comes alive with sights of crime, sounds of rhyme and touches of grime.
Kene’s chosen Director Che Walker heightens the tension in the play and the sense of inevitability, as the characters are literally backed up against the walls as they try to escape the unfolding drama.
The audience too has no way to escape from the brilliant performances of the cast. In its own way the production pays homage to the fantasy of Star Wars and the romance of Romeo and Juliet, but in reality it’s distinctly in a class of its own.
Estate Walls plays at Oval House Theatre as part of Omo London, the Nigeria in British playwriting festival. Tuesday – Saturday, 7.45 PM until Saturday 9 October. Tickets are £12.00 Concessions £6.00. BSL performance with Jacqui Beckford: Thursday 7 October 7.45pm. Audio described by Alison Clarke and Willie Elliot: Friday 8 October 7.45pm
The UK Corner covers urban entertainment from a British perspective and is written by Fiona McKinson. She is a freelance journalist and creative writer based in London. Contact her at [email protected]
Watch the trailer for “Estate Walls”: