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In His Hands

Roberto Martins
Urban Theatre
Oxford House
(2009)

This production by Urban Theatre, the Okai Collier Company's associated charity, which offers a means for young people to express themselves and to comment on their social and economic environment, is their response to the gun crime which is increasingly giving concern in London. It does not, as one might expect, set out the obvious problems of youth gang rivalries and the escalation of weaponry, nor try to place the blame or seek causes or solutions. It is the story of a particular shooting that traces the situation back to the genocidal civil conflicts in the Balkans with a woman from Kosovo undergoing questioning in a police station.

It is the creativity, rather than the social conscience, of these young performers that is on show here, with a script that, as well as the ethnic cleansing horror of the former Yugoslavia, features illegal immigration, sex trafficking, a female heading a London gang and a scene that suggests that the army brutalises its recruits (or is it that it recruits brutes?). Concurrently, it sketches in the story of two brothers separated by crime, one of them being the detective conducting the investigation of the shooting, and adds an extra twist to the ending.

It presents some strong but credible characters whose language ranges from realistic but articulate vernacular to some rather poetic passages and this is matched in the staging with designer Justin Arienti using upturned furniture to create new environments, and movement by Sannchia Gaston breaking into dance at one point. Director Matthew Xia produces dramatic transitions and considerable theatrical energy and pace but debut dramatist Martins has packed so much in that it is not easy to follow what is going on and this young cast need to work on the clarity of their voices if they are to be properly heard and understood, especially if playing with such a range of street-wise accents - against which there was strangely no attempt to give Balkan accents to those characters.

I would question whether this play really explores gun trafficking as its publicity suggests. It's interest lies much more in the characters of the Kosovan woman and the British detective, both of which get particularly strong performances, and it brings to the fore the influence of incoming criminals on our underworld, here from Eastern Europe (a few decades ago it was the Triads, though they had less influence outside their ethnic group). Its success is in the film noir style that it sets out to reflect. The actors playing the characters are not identified, being alphabetically listed - they presumably want us to see this as an ensemble production - but those taking part are Leon Ancliffe, Monique Francois, Sannchia Gaston, Dwayne Hutch, Craig Power, Sharlene Rodney and Nicola Taylor.

Ended 1st March

Reviewer: Howard Loxton