Writers Avenue @ Courtyard Theatre (Play originally commissioned by the Battersea Arts Centre)
The Courtyard Theatre
Conrad Murray’s thoughtful seventy-minute monologue DenMarked mixes an account of his troubled background with quotes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and his occasional performance of beatbox and rap. It tells of a difficult family life on London estates, the school bullying he suffered, the crimes he committed and the people who made a positive difference in his development.
The show opens and closes with him waiting, coffee cup in hand, to be interviewed for the position of drama teacher. He describes his nerves at the prospect, and he wonders if the coffee cup in his hand makes him look foolish.
Between these two moments, there is an account of an abusive childhood in which from a very early age he would be hit by a father whose blows also left his mother bleeding.
The violence against another man resulted in prison for his father. When Conrad later gets into a scrape with local police, his mother thoughtlessly tells him that is also where he will end up. Not surprisingly, from an early age he has been plagued by dreams of prison.
His mother is an unsympathetic figure. When he seems to have a flair for music and asks her about the possibility of lessons, she “decided (he) had natural talent so didn’t need lessons.”
But there are people and things that help him find a way out of this difficult childhood. There is an affectionate description of a grandfather shaped by union activities of the 1970s who refused to buy his council house.
Importantly, there is Julie, a social worker who won his trust and made him feel he was worth something.
Not all the adults were quite so helpful. One stupid teacher made his life at school worse by telling his class that he was an abused child.
Then there is the music he loved and a copy of Hamlet he was given at a time when he had no books. He found that it resonated with his life. Every so often, the stage lights would dim and he would quote a section that had a connection to the story he was telling.
The performance is engaging, the music enjoyable and the story uplifting in its view of hopeful possibilities in even the toughest situation.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna