There is a vibrant energy the moment you set foot in the theatre space of Orange Tree Theatre for Little Baby Jesus. You’re instantly greeted by three youths, milling around on the circular stage amidst a near deafening wall of drum and bass. And our three young actors aren’t just standing idly by, waiting for their cue to start. Instead they are chatting and dancing and just being, well, teenagers. It’s impossible not to smile at the buzz that is already in the air, and even more difficult not to wish you’d brought some sweets as they ask if anyone has any to spare.
With the pre-show playtime over, the three lead us through tales of their schooldays. It’s tales that surely we can all relate to at some level, universal stories of fancying the unattainable girl, football at breaktime, school fights, unwanted detention, nothing feels fanciful. There’s an ease and humour in the stories that are testament to Arinze Kene’s writing, making the everyday flow naturally.
The performances of Anyebe Goodwin, Rachel Nwokoro and Khai Shaw are faultless, taking the script and making it their own, both the laughter and sadness. All three have attitude pouring from them, especially Nwokoro’s Joanne, so confident in herself that she even finds time to stop mid-sentence to address the audience in a moment of ad lib that must come from her days of poetry slams.
The pace is relentless, but what else would you expect from three excitable teens with so many stories to tell. As fast as one finishes, the next starts. And as one of them narrates, the remaining two sit, fidgeting as if wanting to get on with their own stories, jumping up at the click of the fingers to act out supporting roles to add further life and body to the stories on offer.
Where the first half is all school tales and high jinx, the second takes us on a much more serious journey, addressing themes that we wish our children wouldn’t have to bare witness to; themes such as poverty, teenage pregnancies, death, mental health, knife crime. It’s now that we witness the three grow up, each facing up to the fact that they are no longer children, but rather young adults. And whilst the first half is full of laughter, the second is where instead the audience get to hold their collective breath and listen much more carefully as these young lives unravel in different ways, before somehow being put back together, just not necessarily in the same way as they were before. It’s also now that the three independent stories beginning to intertwine, no longer completely independent of each other, but instead complementing one another in subtle little ways.
Thankfully, for all the sadness that we experience in that second half, it also contains hope that these kids will, maybe, be just fine. More so, that maybe there is hope for us all if these three are examples of what the today’s often misrepresented youth have to offer the world as they become adults. It’s a beautiful ending to a beautiful play that is worthy of its place in this marvellous theatre in the heart of Richmond.
Written by: Arinze Kene
Directed by: Tristan Fynn-Aidenu
Produced by: Orange Tree Theatre
Booking Link: https://www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk/whats-on/little-baby-jesus
Booking until: 16 November 2019