Pros: Hard-hitting, raw and impactful. This is theatre at its finest.
Cons: There’s some stuttering over lines and it takes away from the emotion of the delivery.
Dolphins and Sharks, the brilliantly written play from James Anthony Tyler, takes us into a New York neighborhood copy shop where we meet a team of underpaid but surviving colleagues and friends. Each has their own struggles – and there are cracks under the surface – but when one of the colleagues is promoted to manager, the cracks turn into a full on abyss of frustrations, fights and insight into a world where money matters more than loyalty. Dolphins and Sharks is a comedy – and it is funny – but make no mistake, there’s a lot of thought-provoking subject matter here, too.
This play goes deep into the institutionalised power struggles of minorities in the United States, linking in the echoing shadows of slavery with corporate annihilation of communities and the desperation of those living paycheck to paycheck. It’s a lot to cover, but it’s handled incredibly well.
The entire play takes place in a Harlem, New York copy shop and the attention to detail is good. As an American expat, the shop feels authentic and is a great house for the performance. There’s an interesting juxtaposition between the mundane setting of the printers and the intense complexities of the power struggles and subject matter covered in this layered piece and it works wonderfully.
The acting is top draw. Shyko Amos as Isabel is tremendous. This is the single best individual performance I’ve seen this year. She is masterful. Every mannerism, every expression, every single delivery is a tour de force and her energy is phenomenal.
The rest of the cast are also excellent: Ammar Duffus as young idealistic graduate Yusef walks an excellent line between comedy and empathy; Miquel Brown as Mrs Amenze is a brilliant monument for the death of the community and, inevitably, the voice of reason; and Hermeilio Miguel Aquino as Danilo does very well to bring life and depth to a character that could easily have been slid into the background here. Instead he’s vibrant, lively and humanises his character wonderfully. Rachel Handshaw delivers a strong performance as Xiomara, although the character’s motives are unclear.
There are few weaknesses in the performance, but unfortunately one of the notable ones is that there are a significant number of times in which lines are stumbled over and not delivered on time (that was my impression). It’s a very charged and full on performance, but the delivery of the lines needs to live up to the absolute mastery on display in every other angle of this performance.
Having said that, there’s no question that this is an excellent production. Every minute of this performance is enjoyable, electric and thought-provoking. The performances are strong, and the writing is exceptional. The cultural nuances are handled well and the performances are excellent. The show has a clever soundtrack too – carefully chosen music breaks up each scene alongside the screaming of a broken printer (excellent stage setting again here.)
This is a powerful, impactful production which also feels worryingly relevant to contemporary societal issues. Do not miss your chance to see it.
Author: James Anthony Tyler
Director: Lydia Parker
Booking Until: 30 September 2017
Box Office: 0844 847 1652
Booking Link: http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2017/dolphins-and-sharks.php