Directed by Josh Azouz
Pros: Top class performances and a very sweet story.
Cons: Nothing worth mentioning.
Our Verdict: An exciting production with good writing and a brilliant central performance from Seraphina Beh.
There have been plenty of shows about the riots in the past year which have explored stories on both sides of the coin. Some of them were hard-hitting, while others were sympathetic to the rioters. This production at the Ovalhouse
avoids taking sides and focuses on presenting a story of a teenage girl who gets caught up in the adrenalin of the events, and who struggles to deal with the aftermath.
Michelle is a sweet teenage girl from Hackney who dreams of becoming a dancer when she finishes school. Her widowed mum Maureen is strict, but only because she wants the best for her daughter. Maureen continues to struggle with loneliness following the death of her husband, but she channels her emotions into focusing on her daughter’s wellbeing. Olu Osilewe brings a very genuine warmth and sadness to the role, and the mother/daughter scenes were very effective. A scene where Maureen goes through her husband’s old record collection while he appears in her imagination will have you fighting back tears.
For a play which is technically not a musical, this show comes very close to being one. There are quite a few epic dance numbers and songs performed by an impressively talented cast. The show itself is written by the multi-talented Reuben Massiah, who turns out a strong and believable performance as youth worker Justin. He also joins in on the terrific dance numbers too, which is not something you often get with a playwright. The supporting cast in general are completely brilliant. All of the members of the Hackney youth dance group are both great dancers and lovely actors too – each bringing a fully-formed character to the stage. Camilla De Oliviera is particularly strong, playing Michelle’s wayward friend, Bex, with passion and vigour. For such a petite little girl, her character can be pretty scary with a limited capacity for empathy and a strong manipulative streak – all of which heightens the drama.
For me, the strongest element of the show is the fantastic performance from Seraphina Beh. She is everything you could want in a protagonist – troubled, sensitive, and eager to do the right thing, (despite that being the harder option). Her performance is at just the right level to be believable and absorbing while also being entertaining and incredibly funny. The dynamic between her character Michelle and youth dance leader Daniel (Raphael Bar) is very well-observed and the scenes with Bex reminded me of my own teenage years. I found the mum/daughter scenes to be particularly emotive with Beh demonstrating extraordinary levels of maturity in her performance. Beh is certainly an actress with a bright future and I look forward to seeing more from her.
All in all, this show is well worth the ticket price. Considering I’m blue in the face from seeing shows about the riots and I’m not a big fan of musicals or urban music, it is a miracle that I liked this show at all. The truth is that I loved everything about it, which is a testament to the talents of everyone involved in this production. It is nice to see an unbiased approach to such a controversial topic. In fact, this middle-ground is partly why the show works so well. The fact that there are good people who get involved in bad things is something we can all relate to, and when the story is performed as brilliantly as this, it is hard not to empathise with all involved.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
Ondisting runs at the Ovalhouse Theatre until 27th April 2013.