Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Theatre review: God's Property

Arinze Kene's God's Property looks at what it is to be mixed-race in Britain, particularly at a time when people were still discovering what kind of racial identity that might be. It's 1982, with the Brixton riots a fairly recent memory, and Onochie (Ash Hunter,) the teenage son of a Nigerian father (now deceased) and white Irish mother, returns to his home in Deptford to find an unexpected visitor. His mother has disappeared, and in her place is his older brother Chima (Kingsley Ben-Adir,) just released from prison after 10 years, during which the rest of his family made no contact with him. Partly as a result of his brother's crime and the cloud it's left over his family in the neighbourhood, Onochie has in the intervening years stopped thinking of himelf as black, and even joined a local group of skinheads.

There follows a dramatic night as the apparently amiable Chima tries to keep his return secret from the bloodthirsty neighbours, while attempting to convince Ono that he's fooling himself by cutting off his black background, and will suffer for it when the world turns on him. Matters are complicated when Ono's white girlfriend Holly (Ria Zmitrowicz) arrives, and Chima tries to conceal his true identity.

There's a lot of humour balancing out the anger in Kene's play, which is effectively brought to life by Michael Buffong's cast - Zmitrowicz's Holly has some fun moments both with her awkward teenage relationship with Ono (the word "portfolio" is unlikely to be used so well as a punchline any time soon,) and later as she tries to be polite to the man she thinks is a visiting cousin. All four of the cast (completed by Bradley Gardner as a late arrival with a link to the past) also excel in making plausible the play's turn to something more violent.

Although the play's ending is powerful, there's rather a lot of gaps and questions left by the numerous plot twists required to achieve it. And I'm not familiar with any of Kene's other plays so perhaps he's dealt with a more contemporary context elsewhere, but the period setting and the extremes of the time that the story looks at does lend a bit too much distance - I'd like to know where he feels the identity is now, when there's a few generations of mixed-race people in the UK. But as a writer his obvious strength is in the dialogue, which has a memorably, slightly poetic turn to it that's just this side of being entirely naturalistic.

God's Property by Arinze Kene is booking until the 23rd of March at Soho Theatre; then continuing on tour to Birmingham.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes straight through.

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