Tia and Kai are bunking off school to visit their wealthy classmate, Sienna. Once beyond the automatic gates of her Hampstead mansion, the two of them are vividly and comically incredulous to find a swimming pool, a walk-in wardrobe, a staff flat and….a cinema! Just a couple of miles up the road from their home in Camden, this is a world away from their own experience.
Giorgia Valentino and Zacchaeus Kayode, playing Tia and Kai, have a lovely natural chemistry together, as teenagers who have known each other since the year dot, grown up on the same estate and attended the same school. They know each other’s secrets and share in each other’s aspirations, so despite being in her own house, surrounded by her own family’s wealth, it is Sienna who seems like the outsider. As the three kids take full advantage of the facilities, we learn a little more about their backgrounds but even more about fly fishing, a passion that Tia’s dad has communicated to his daughter, and which she, in turn, communicates earnestly to us.
After a bouncy start, the tone gets darker. Sienna, who is never seen but is voiced by the other two as they narrate their story, drinks too much and tries too hard, Tia gives in to temptation and Kai almost becomes the fall guy. There is an anxious wait to discover whether or not Kai will be given the fair hearing so often denied to young black men, and which of the men in her life Tia will choose to defend.
On The Line was developed with members of the Camden Action Youth Boxing Intervention, based on their experiences. What is interesting is that the story touches on difficult subjects – addiction, injustice, the immigrant experience – but chooses not to examine them closely. This is not a gritty tale of life on the mean streets of North London but an entertaining shaggy dog story in which everyone ultimately gets what they want or what they need. It feels almost like a wish fulfilment fantasy in which treatment is accessible at the time of need, foster places are readily available and young people succeed against long odds.
The set is no more than a white light-up panel and a couple of chairs, so it is great credit to the actors and the writing that they manage to conjure up settings as varied as the view of London from Hampstead, a pristine kitchen and a grubby pool. Valentino and Kayode are charismatic performers who carry the show confidently, bringing comedy and pathos to this simple story of fishing and friendship.
Writer & Director: Emilia Teglia
Produced by: Odd Eyes Theatre
On The Line played as part of VAULT Festival 2023 and has completed its current run.