Fallout

Roy Williams
Royal Court Theatre Downstairs
(2003)

The murder of Stephen Lawrence still has repercussions today. It raised many issues of morality that are of universal significance and, in Fallout, Roy Williams uses a similar story as his starting point.

Kwame was a nice boy and that was his downfall. Just before he was due to escape his terrifying estate for university, four "bwois" who knew him well murdered him for no real reason, just a minor case of sexual jealousy.

Williams explores the motives of not only his murderers but their friends and the police, to build a picture of a community that is largely out of control.

At times funny and at others terrifying, Ian Rickson's production - in one of those Royal Court redesigns that leaves a transformed theatre in the round with no stalls - is well-acted and often perceptive.

Ultz has designed a set rather like a museum with stone walls, floors and staircase and virtually no props. At the sides, the audience are caged and just as well, as actors bravely fling themselves at the grilles. There is no escape from the public gaze and ultimately in this society everyone is a loser.

The pivotal character is the beautiful Shanice, played with a nice mix of bravado and sensitivity by Ony Uhiara. She is a girl to die for and knows it. Her jealously insecure boyfriend Emile (Marcel McCalla) and Dwayne, the leader of his gang (Michael Obiora) joust for her affections. Her lonely friend, Ronnie or Troll (Petra Letang) will do anything for her and even the two cops investigating the murder would happily "grind" her if the opportunity arose.

Within this framework, Williams explores the way in which the youths interact. He sometimes strives too hard to deliver his message and the plot periodically gets lost in byways but often he gets it right.

In addition to the teenagers, he shows us the two rather clichéd policemen, one liberal white and one condemnatory black, played by Daniel Ryan and Lennie James respectively. They use radically different methods. The consequence is a moral debate on whether the rule of law or justice is more important.

The street lingo always seems realistic and there are some genuinely funny moments in Fallout. The police procedural could come from any one of a dozen episodes of The Bill but this does not detract from a serious attempt to show how pointless murders like that of Stephen Lawrence come about when there is no shape to life.

There may be too many stereotypical scenes around the edges but, with this sharp drama, Roy Williams has his heart in the right place. It makes its viewers consider aspects of 21st Century British society and its Black teen sub-culture in a fresh light and for that it is to be commended.

This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version

Philip Fisher