Alfred Fagon’s play premiered in 1975 when the themes of race, class, gender and capitalism would have shocked and amazed audiences. While still powerful, the play has lost much of its impact since its provocative premiere. The three-hander stars Nickcolia King-N’Da, Natalie Simpson and Toyin Omari-Kinch, and is directed by Dawn Walton.
The story tells of eighteen year old entrepreneur Shakie and his business ventures as he works his way up the capitalist ladder. He is joined by his best mate Stumpie and the mother of his daughter, thirty year old Jackie. However as Shakie’s dealings begin to go awry, he and Stumpie turn to more drastic measures to make money.
The stand out performance of the night comes from Natalie Simpson, playing Jackie. Her performance exudes elegance as she tantalises her ex-lover in the first act and her anxiety and persecution later in the play are heartfelt and believable. However Simpon’s prowess highlights the other two actors’ flaws. While their performances were passable, at times they felt rather contrived, and the illusion of theatre was broken.
The set design by Simon Kenny was highly effective. The stage starts as a naturalistic London apartment, instantly recognisable as being from the 1970s. However as Act Three opens, the walls are stripped away, leaving only the bare black frame, representative of the tone from there on in.
Walton manages to bring life and energy into the could-be stilted scenes. However the writing of the play’s fourth and final act builds so exponentially that it seems implausible. This, paired with the fact that the final moments of the play can be predicted long beforehand, means that the production’s conclusion feels unsatisfactory.
While the play is dripping with misogyny and anti-semitism, many of the messages are still chillingly pertinent to today. Most significant are the treatment of people of colour in the mainstream media, and the role of social class differences in society. However, in the time since Fagon wrote about them in 1975, it feels as though they have been explored in a far more nuanced and eloquent way. As such the writing no longer feels provocative, just jarring. While many elements of the play are strong, the production fails to hold them all together sufficiently.