Fix Up

Kwame Kwei-Armah
RNT Cottesloe
(2004)

Fix Up production photograoh

Kwame Kwei-Armah's last play Elmina's Kitchen, also in the Cottesloe Theatre, won him an Evening Standard award for most promising playwright. In that Fix Up seems far stronger and has three unforgettable characters, it deserves even better.

It is set in a gigantic Tottenham bookshop run by the magisterial, word-worshipping Brother Kiyi. This is a man with dreadlocks to his knees who believes in Black Power to the exclusion of love and life. Jeffery Kissoon delivers a nice mix of pride, passion and, ultimately, defeat with great skill.

The shop is a monument to great Black writers and also to a pride and historical sensibility that does not seem to be passing to a younger generation. As a new landlord tries to evict Kiyi in favour of a hair supplies shop, there is a feeling that, had Nell Dunn's Steaming been set in a bookshop rather than a sauna, it would have been Fix Up.

Life becomes even more complicated, and possibly artificially elaborate as the beautiful young teacher, Alice, played by Nina Sosanya, arrives and becomes fascinated by Marcus Garvey and testaments of slavery.

She is a half-caste feminist, which adds a political edge, and Kiyi, together with the other male cast members, his Fifth Columnist lodger and the selectively stuttering Carl, Mo Sesay, are inevitably all smitten.

Only Claire Benedict's bitter, humourless Norma, a lady with as many bad hairstyles as appearances on stage, who is secretly in love with Kiyi remains unmoved. It is she who fires up Kiyi and leads the battle to protect the shop and the cultural history that it stands for.

In an indecent rush, secrets emerge that change the perceptions of everybody both on and off Bunny Christie's massive set, overflowing with what must be getting on for 1,000 books. She has created a thing of beauty or at least one of those jam-packed bookshops like the Strand in New York, that bibliophiles will drool over.

The ending is moving, as we see Kiyi (reduced to plain old Peter) like a Samson, shorn of hair and power, his temple a ruin. The redeeming factor, if there is one, is that both he and Alice find a degree of truth that they have each been missing for fifteen or more years.

Kissoon is excellent and the two ladies also give fine performances under Angus Jackson's sometimes-eccentric direction. The play has some wonderful characters and interesting situations, although it eventually becomes melodramatic.

Following the recent revival of Playboy of the West Indies and the Hackney Aladdin, perhaps Black Theatre really is on a long-awaited roll.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher