Little Sweet Thing
Eclipse Theatre at Nottingham Playhouse and touring
A lone youngster mimes taking shots at a basketball hoop. He appears to miss. The more he misses, the more angry and frustrated he becomes. A teenager, unidentifiable because he wears a hood which covers his face, offers the player a real basketball - a symbolic reference to his former life. He resists - but for how long?
That's the start of Roy Williams' new play, a gritty, earthy look at the temptations facing young people today as they grow up in a world in which bullying, violence and gun crime are never far away.
Little Sweet Thing is the third play in the Eclipse initiative which aims to develop the profile of national and regional black theatre. But director Michael Buffong points out that Williams' latest offering is not a "black" play because it catalogues the problems faced by all adolescents.
Williams, whose productions have so far played only in London, has come up with a clever, incisive script and has accurately captured the dialogue and culture of today's kids on the streets.
Buffong has assembled an enthusiastic troupe who are keen to put over Williams' message that there are limits to what you should do to look good in your mates' eyes.
Marcel McCalla throws himself totally into his role as Kev, just out of prison and determined not to return to his old ways, even if that means taking a menial job and suffering ridicule from his peers.
Equally as impressive is Seroca Davis as Tash, Kev's sister. She's the insolent, manipulative schoolgirl who comes over as tough and selfish because that's how she thinks she ought to behave. As she matures she begins to adopt a different attitude as she realises she needs friendship more than she'll admit.
The rest of the cast are just as ebullient although a couple of the actors didn't project as well as they might have done and some of their lines were lost.
On the whole, though, it's a terrific production with some exceptional moments, none better than a nightclub shooting which is acted at normal speed, then in reverse and finally in slow motion.
Ruari Murchison's set is simple yet extremely effective, with projections onto the basketball backboard astutely pointing up each new scene.
The only disconcerting part of the evening was the audience's reaction to what was happening on stage. It was good to see so many youngsters enjoying Little Sweet Thing but they tended to find humour where the actors and director were trying to emphasise the tension in a scene.
The ending is quite distressing and involves a brutal act of revenge. It was skilfully done and almost took your breath away. Yet many of the youngsters cheered at the outcome.
Eclipse Theatre has made great strides in a short time. Little Sweet Thing will boost its reputation further. Its previous offerings, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl and Mother Courage and Her Children, were clearly designed to get more black people into theatres. Little Sweet Thing scores because people of all ages can recognise the problems faced by today's adolescents whatever their colour.
"Little Sweet Thing" plays at Warwick Arts Centre until Saturday, Northampton Royal from March 8th to 10th, and Birmingham Rep from April 7th to 9th
Reviewer: Steve Orme