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Posts Tagged ‘Malachi Kirby’

The day after I’d hailed a golden age of new plays in my review of 2017, there I was in the Donmar seeing another impressive new play, the UK debut by American playwright Amy Herzog.

American paediatrician Zak and his wife Abby have moved to Paris for Zak’s important new research job. They’ve rented a garret in a Bohemian neighbourhood from a Senegalese couple, Alioune and Amina, who live downstairs. It’s difficult for Abby to work as she doesn’t speak French (and has given up her classes), but she is giving yoga lessons. She’s at best high maintenance, at worst neurotic and paranoid; a real handful. They are way behind with the rent, which is testing Zak’s friendship with Alioune, with whom he smokes (way too much) weed. Abby’s in daily phone contact with her widowed dad and pregnant sister back home. Just when you think Abby’s the real problem, the truth about Zak begins to unravel, and it’s all secrets and lies towards its tragic conclusion

I thought Zak and Abby were really well drawn characters and there’s a plausibility about both the relationship and the situation. The play continually surprises you, going down paths you weren’t expecting, just about keeping on the right side of melodrama. There’s palpable tension in Michael Longhurst’s masterly production, aided by Ben & Max Ringham’s soundscape, which gripped me for the whole 100 unbroken minutes. The realism and claustrophobia of Tom Scutt’s design adds much to what unfolds like a thriller.

I was very impressed by Imogen Poots’ stage debut last year in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and I was even more impressed by her characterisation of fragile, highly strung, vulnerable Abby. James Norton is hugely impressive too, a very edgy Zak, who changes from protective to controlling in a blink. Malachi Kirby and Faith Alibi provide fine support, communicating mostly in French (entirely in the final scene) but somehow comprehensible even if you don’t speak the language!

A great start to 2018, hopefully a continuation of the golden age.

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This play isn’t set in that Somalian town; in fact, it’s set in a London secondary school and has nothing to do with Mogadishu or Somalia at all. What it is, though, is very well written, very topical, very thought(and debate)provoking and very entertaining. The fact it is the playwright’s first play makes this all the more astonishing.

A white female teacher initially refuses to report the violent act of a black pupil with whom she empathises because she doesn’t want to get him into trouble. The Head persuades her to do so, and this unleashes a counter-story of racist abuse spun by the boy with the collaboration of his friends. By the interval, my companion had taken sides and we had a heated debate about the unfairness of the teacher’s treatment. In the second half, the play achieves an extraordinary balance by revealing the back stories and refuses to take sides. The consequences of the event itself develop a life of their own in the hands of people and organisation who know neither the teacher nor the boy.

It may be some time before we see writing as good as this again. The situation, characterisation and dialogue ooze authenticity, no doubt because writer Vivienne Franzmann has been a secondary school teacher for 12 years. Actor-turned-Director Matthew Dunster has staged it brilliantly with just a few props inside movable wire fencing surrounding the school playground. There is a uniformly fine ensemble of 12 actors, from which I would single out Malachi Kirby’s assured and passionate Jason and Hammed Animashaun as his crucial (comic) sidekick Jordan.

A triumph for original producers the Royal Exchange Manchester and the Lyric Hammersmith. Don’t miss it.

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