Youth theatre for our times

Earlier this evening, I was at the Jacksons Lane Community Centre to see a wonderful Bilimankhwe Young Company production of a double bill of plays by David Farr (I should, of course, declare an interest as one of Bilimankhwe’s trustees).

The plays, “The Queen Must Die” and “Ruckus in the Garden”, were performed by young people aged between 12 and 18, all of whom are in Haringey Schools.   Both plays were hilarious and were much enjoyed by the (mainly) late-teen audience.

The first is a farce set at the time of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002.  The action takes place the night before the Jubilee procession in a small town, when a giant papier mache statue of the Queen is to be the centre-piece of the procession.  The statue becomes the focus for 2 groups of teenagers who have their own reasons for wanting it destroyed. The first group belong to the anti-monarchy group the ‘Popular Republican Front’ and want to destroy the statue as a symbolic act of defiance against the ‘establishment’. The second – all girls – have a serious fashion situation they need to resolve in order to hold on to their credibility. All they need to do is go to the house where the statue is being kept and get past the babysitter – Shaun ‘the lips’ Digby, played by Archie Barber.  There are fine performances all round, but notably from Fred Rich as Darren, the (self-appointed) revolutionary leader with a fine line in political rhetoric, from Chanteese Black as Shannon, the leading fashionista who transforms herself into the WAM (Women Against the Monarchy) when she thinks Darren is a real film director, and from Gulsah Akdag as Mad Mike, Darren’s Rosa Luxemburg, an animal rights activist who keeps threatening Shannon with an axe.

The second play revolves round two schools: Riverdale Comprehensive (where the chavs from the sink estate go) and St Nectan’s (not selective, but it is really, where the better-off middle classes send their children).  Both are on an educational trip to the Garden of Cecil Fortescue House. A ruckus is inevitable, as is customary when these two schools meet.  Magic waits amongst the topiary in the form of Cupid, who brings about transformations romantic – and revealing.  The action is an amalgam of a “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Romeo and Juliet”, but with a happy ending for the two sets of star-crossed lovers (excellent performances by Carla Ingram as Tamsen and Enzi Alexander as Kath, who swap bodies, to confuse James Martin as Stanley and Michael Mellor as Hugh), and for the “unexpected” couple, Faisal Bhatti as Rock and Seraphina Taylor as Maisy.  Issues of class, gender roles, violence, and prejudice are all neatly explored.

So, if I’ve whetted your appetite, there’s only one more performance and there aren’t many seats left.

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