Pros: Strong ensemble, solid performances and hard hitting text.
Cons: Pace and focus is broken in parts.
From above a local pub to the heartland of the West End, us Londoners are blessed with so many wonderful and unique theatres. No matter where you are in the capital there’s always a venue hidden away to enjoy, and New Diorama is one of this reviewer’s faves.
Situated in the heart of Fitzrovia, a stone’s throw from Warren Street underground station, New Diorama is a pioneering and vibrant space that champions emerging work and provides a home for theatre ensembles and companies. Everything I’ve seen here over the years has been thought provoking and profound; its new production, Kings, follows this trend.
Straight from its sold out run at the 2017 Vault Festival, Kings is a new work by Oli Forsyth and award-winning new writing company Smoke & Oakum Theatre. Compelling from the off, Kings is an absolute must see. The play delves into the daily plight of the capital’s homeless community and explores what life is like when you have nothing and, in some aspects, no-one. It’s distressing stuff as Forsyth’s potent script goes for the jugular with poignancy, relevance and a lot of heart.
The story follows Bess, Hannah and Ebi, three rough sleepers who have come together to form a makeshift camp and a dysfunctional family under some railway arches. Through constant begging, counting pennies and eating scraps, life is what it is for this threesome as they eke out an existence while always believing they will one day get a shiny council house. A new arrival, the enigmatic Caz (Madeline MacMahon), upsets this status quo with her charming personality and penchant for magic tricks. Before long, her ‘don’t ask; take’ philosophy shifts the groups balance irrevocably. Bess was played by Libby Liburd to perfection. With the arrival of Caz, Bess’s leadership is under threat and Liburd’s portrayal of this insecurity and anguish is captivating. Andy McLeod as Bess’s number two, Ebi, was strong, although I did find him a bit wet behind the ears. This is not a negative, rather a testament to McLeod’s great characterisation of a failed electrician just trying to be amenable and get by. Emma James as spiced up teenage runaway Hannah is a delight from the second she emerges from her hidden sleeping bag. These three worked solidly together for the first part of the play but it’s MacMahon’s Caz that was the game changer and solidified these four actors into a tight and strong ensemble. MacMahon was mesmerising and hypnotic. Caz was warm and drew me in, but was also deceptive, dangerous and cunning. The final scene, which included the dashing James Barbour as Man, was so fraught with tension I couldn’t work out what Caz (as the new leader) was going to do next. Absolutely stellar performances throughout. I honestly feel that Kings was one of the best plays I’ve seen this year.
Forsyth directed his cast beautifully and there were some touching, and distressing, moments across Erin Green’s wonderful set design. I even found myself laughing. However I did find some of the scene breaks too slow which resulted in the fast and seamless pace being occasionally broken.
For this New Diorama run, Kings has partnered with the youth homelessness charity Centrepoint to raise funds and awareness for the plight of the homeless in the UK, so I urge you to leave your warm home and go see and support this show.
For further reading, an article detailing homelessness and addiction by Oliver Clark at Rehab 4 Addiction.
Writer and Director: Oli Forsyth
Producer: Smoke & Oakum Theatre
Designer: Erin Green
Stage Manager: James Barbour
Booking Until: Saturday October 21st 2017
Box Office: 020 7383 9034 (between 14:00 – 18:00, Monday – Friday)
Booking Tickets: http://www.newdiorama.com/whats-on/kings