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Advice for the Young at Heart

Roy Williams
Theatre Centre
Greenwich Theatre

Alix Ross as Candice Credit: Sarah London for Theatre Centre’
Alix Ross as Candice, Joe Stamp as Kenny and Matt Bradley-Robinson as Sam Credit: Sarah London for Theatre Centre’
Alix Ross as Candice and Adrian Richards as Clint Credit: Sarah London for Theatre Centre’

Roy Williams’s new play bridges more than fifty years, linking the riots of 2011 and the Notting Hill riots of 1958.

Written specifically for young audiences and commissioned by Theatre Centre, which will be touring it to more than fifty schools, theatres and other venues, it is about two pairs of teenagers and the worlds in which they move.

Candice is a mixed-race seventeen-year-old who is hanging around a lock-up on a London estate; she is talking on her mobile as she waits for someone. That’s not the person who turns up. He is another teenager but not in the trainers and hoodie of her mates. Instead, he wears a velvet-collared Edwardian coat and winkle-pickers and is combing back his DA.

He is her recently-dead, white granddad Sam, not as she remembers him, “getting wasted on beer, shitting your pants… when you weren’t wetting yourself 24/7,” but as he was at her age. He is soon joined by his elder brother, Kenny, who is planning a bit of bother and hands him a flick knife.

As they leave, Clint arrives but he can’t see them. Clint has just come from where rioters are looting shops. He is black and the same age as Candice. They’ve know each other since nursery school. It is him she has been expecting. It is obvious he really likes her, but this is no romantic tryst; it is a set up with Candice as much a victim as it is intended Clint will be.

Young people face the same challenges across the generations, though the circumstances may be different. They say that history repeats itself and it will if we don’t learn from it, but that history can be in your own family not just in the history books.

In these two stories, two generations apart, tales from half a century ago begin to resonate and influence Candice’s actions. Racism, violence and sexual behaviour all have their place in the story but it is particularly concerned with personal loyalties, peer pressure and making your own decisions.

Emma Wee’s simple setting of angled, painted panels to suggest the deserted corner of an estate with a couple of other scenic pieces will be ideal for touring. Director Natalie Wilson has kept her production simple and direct with an effective fight sequence which will keep school audiences on the edge of their seats.

She has drawn strong performances from her young cast. Matt Bradley-Robinson gives Sam a Teddy boy cockiness, but you can already see him struggling to be his own man. Kenny delivers all the old arguments against the West Indian influx. Young audiences will, I hope, be shocked by his overt racism, but Joe Stamp’s performance reflects the male culture that equally drives violence.

The modern youngsters are no angels either. Adrian Richards gives Clint a nervous energy that suggests his insecurity. He is totally calm about appropriating the property of others and Candice is not concerned by theft but wishes the booty was more to her liking. Alix Ross gives her a feisty veneer of confidence but lets us see the hurt beneath.

It is not easy to write convincing conversations with ghosts but Roy Williams makes them sound quite natural. Natalie Williams opens her production with a sequence of movement involving Candice and a group of red-cagouled hoodies that establishes it theatrically and liberates an audience’s imagination as well as prefiguring a key but unseen piece of the story.

The play makes its own point clearly but it makes a fitting conclusion in which, still in character, Candice addresses the audience exhorting them to “live to learn, and learn to live. Yeah?”

Reviewer: Howard Loxton