Review: Estate Walls

Written for What’s On StageBrief Encounter With ... Estate Walls' Arinze Kene

Battling brothers, a soaring love scene and a fool worthy of King Lear, Arinze Kene’s Estate Walls skips majestically between the epic and urban in a story that would feel as comfortable set against a Grecian palace as it does the grimy city wall of its title.

Three boyish men bat language around like marauding lion cubs, catching and throwing rhythms and rhymes with an undulating skill and energy that sweeps you away. They are old friends finally reunited by the return of the lean Cain, a hard edged youth back from jail. Making up this street triumvirate is motor mouth Myles, played with comic joie de vivre by Ricci McLeod, who swaggers around bigging up his beauty.  All the while third member Obi scribbles quietly away in his notebook, occasionally showing his claws and credentials by shooting damning zingers in Myles’ direction.

Into this clique bombs the frenetic Reggie (a brilliantly precise Huss Garbiya), a crack addict who trips delicately around the boys tight knit world and the eloquent Chelsea, the girl in the heart of more than one of these players. Both cause cataclysmic results.

Kene’s eclectic dialogue is a pleasure to listen to jumping from poetic to pithy and back again with remarkable ease and whipping its audience up into a vocal reaction to each barbed line or ego filled whistle. Che Walker’s direction forges a palpable bond between this rich language and the lithe, attitude filled postures of this powerful cast.

This is a strong debut for Inner City Theatre but although at points Estate Walls flies above the expected into the sublime it eventually lands, somewhat predictably, in the bosom of a conventional morality tale. For form alone however, it is well worth the ride.

Q&A with Arinze Kene

Written for Whats On Stage

Arinze Kene is an actor and playwright who has worked extensively in TV and theatre and is perhaps best known as Connor in Eastenders. He is also the Artistic Director of emerging company Inner City Theatre who seek to give new voices to Urban London. Previous collaborator Che Walker directs their debut production, Kene’s Estate Walls, now playing at the Oval House Theatre.

Can you tell me a little bit about Estate Walls and what it is about?

Estate Walls is a play about three best friends who have grown up on the same estate their whole lives. Obi dreams of becoming a writer and wants to leave the estate. We look at the point right before these boys are set to each go their separate way. Cain however has different plans for the trio and plans a heist. Meanwhile, Obi’s love for a forbidden girl adds to the complexity on the estate, making him soon enter into a world of problems.

What was your impetus to write this story?

I have always wanted to tell this story. Growing up, I spent many days and nights in estates, chilling, talking about girls, talking about how we’re going to make money now and in the future, play fighting, cussing each other’s mums, never talking about religion. I’ve always seen these characters in my head and needed to give them breath.

Your writing has been described as “witty urban street slanguage” are you conscious of a particular style in your work?

All I’ve done is celebrated the Inner City vernacular instead of using it as something which holds back my characters or stereotypes them. I’ve embraced it wholly. I’ve made all my characters very articulate but have not changed the ways in which they select their words.

You’re Artistic Director of Inner City Theatre and Estate Walls is your first play. Is it indicative of your company’s ethos?

Yes. Inner City Theatre set out to embrace and celebrate Inner City characters, places and situations. We want people living in the Inner City to be able to come and see a production and recognize themselves on the stage. Estate Walls does this very well without alienating anybody. The play is universal but quite specific.

What prompted you to form the company?

I know many young people who share the same view with me about theatre and the way it portrays young black and urban people. I’ve set out to do something about it with a few of my friends in theatre by creating Inner City Theatre. We hope this can be a blueprint for others writers or artists to feel encouraged to go ahead and put out whatever message they want to put out. And to continually do so.

What has it been like working with Che Walker?

Che is my boy! I love the dude. I’ve worked with him a few times before, on Been So Long, a play written and directed by him that he cast me in as the lead. And we’ve done various readings together. It has been a great experience and I’ll be working with him again, no doubt.

Whose has inspired you along the way and who do you admire now?

Many people inspire me. Too may to name just one. The thing I love the most in successful creative people is humility and generosity. And by generosity I mean with ‘time’. Just allowing your brain to be picked by someone ‘young’ to the game can inspire him or her a lot. I’m always humbled whenever someone I really respect gives me two minutes of his or her time. Time is the most precious thing you can give to someone I think.

What’s next for you and Inner City Theatre?

Next for me, well, I writing away so I’m sure you’ll hear from me again soon enough. Next for Inner City Theatre, we’ll be staging another full-length play next year.

Estate Walls runs from 24 September (previews from 21 September) until 9 October 2010 at the Oval House Theatre.

Musical Pride and Prejudice

Originally written for The Public Reviews

 Last week I went to see the ENO doing Katya Kabanova at the Coliseum, a meaty piece of classical brilliance.  The next day I went to see Hairspray, a bubble gum piece of theatrical whimsy.   Katya was awe inspiring at points, and infinitely thought provoking, but for sheer balls out joy, nothing could beat Hairspray.

Whilst one is seen as a bastion of high art and the other, a guilty theatrical pleasure, opera and musicals have more in common than one may originally think.  Both art forms (and yes a great musical can be ‘art’) use music to transport the viewer into a heightened emotional state of ecstasy.   Deeply emotive, both do exactly what Aristotle championed, promoting a very healthy sense of catharsis.

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The Best Of The Rest 2010

We all know the big un’s to watch out for in the first few months of 2010; Red, currently running at the Donmar Warehouse, the West End transfers of Enron and Jerusalem, Peter Brook at The Barbican which also houses the eclectic Bite Season for 2010 and work by the legendary Pina Bausch, Trilogy at The BAC and of course the London International Mime Festival.

But what about the smaller venues – not just the BAC’s or The Riverside Studios’ who consistently punch above their weight, but the truly off-piste theatres – The Blue Elephant Theatre, The Royal Vauxhall Tavern and The Cock Tavern to name but a few.  Unlike the big theatres these small houses can only programme up to 3-6 months so no need to book miles in advance – these are things you can see in the very near future so check your pre-planned nature at the door and get a little trigger happy.

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