I'm a Londoner

Sam Bevitt, Roberto Trippini, Michael Clarkson and Andrew Ward
Palladini Productions
Courtyard Theatre

Publicity photo

This isn't a celebration of cockney spirit and pearly kings and queens as the title might suggest but a look at some of the odd and intriguing characters we pass each day on our streets and who now form part of London. It takes the form of a series of separate monologues which change according to the cast in this show's various incarnations - when it was seen on the South Bank at the Scoop in early summer it had nine characters and some of the roles were differently gendered from this version in which the characters are reduced to seven.

The most traditional of them is a bible-thumping evangelist, complete with megaphone, who gets the audience praying along with him in an effort to be saved. He was once a high living stockbroker, now brought to Christ by AIDS. As played by Tom Bonington he's hilarious but, like the real thing, you can only take so much, and this is beautifully timed; just when in real life you would have had enough and turned away this segment ends: perfect timing. All these monologues as similarly well judged in Saima Duhare's production.

With a simple set of a bench and leaves scattered on the ground, a pile of rubbish and a sleeping derelict this could be any London park or open space. Before the play begins we hear that most London of all sounds, the noises of a journey on the Northern Line with on-train announcements and platform updates that are incomprehensible, and then announcements on station platforms before that more conventional identification, the chimes of Big Ben's clock which mark the beginning of the action: a young Chinese girl comes on in Evening Standard uniform handing out the paper to those within her reach. Suni La plays her with an engaging freshness, giving her exactly the identity and individuality to someone who, as she says, most people see as a blur - a hand presenting a paper not a person, just one more of those we hurry past ignoring.

David Palliser's homeless ex-soldier, hand trembling, eyes scrunched up and streaming, is one of those people you might cross the road to avoid being confronted by. His mind messed up by war and the drugs he uses for escape, confiding or shouting he becomes extraordinary real and moving. This is a fine performance.

Sanita Simms plays a black fashionista whose every sentence ends in 'Yah'. Horrified that someone suggested that she should once take a bus ride, she somehow knows about those Underground announcements: 'Mind the Gap,' though for her, of course, means avoid the clothing label. Though playing a featherbrain who can't shut up, at the performance I saw the actress deftly used an audience comment against the character to provide an exit with extra humour.

Richard Booth's burger-seller from Belarus is a representative of our more recent batch of immigrants from Eastern Europe. Tricked by tales of a Livingstone who scatters gold, he's been cheated by a person-trafficker, his luxury flight turned into a vegetable truck with twenty others, and his open honesty gains our sympathy, even when he starts revealing his contempt for all his customers, but then we find him running his own scam.

The story of a failed Italian musician, who came to London to find fame and fortune, I found less involving, despite Luca Zizzari's elastic limbed performance. I would love to see this actor as a commedia lazzi but he seems to need another performer to react with. Here he roves too restlessly around the stage, losing the immediate contact with the audience that the other characters sustain. He seems to represent one of those people who bore you with their stories and you look for excuses to escape.

The final vignette is a drunk, passed out on a bench, but this is no down-and-out wino or meths drinker but a champagne guzzling socialite from West Africa, her Nigerian parents dysfunctional business big shots. Velile Tshabalala gives a stunning performance of a drunk, teetering on her red high heels, switching from her own posh Chelsea tones to the Nigerian accents of her parents with great comic effect. It is not just funny, you cannot help but feel sympathy for this unhappy rich girl. Like all these characters, when you get to know them they are not what you might initially expect.

The production neatly dovetails each monologue with the next; lighting, sound and direction are never obtrusive and always supportive. With theatrically carefully planned, what comes over seems essentially verismo and what could be a series of stand up sketches becomes a set of what - all but one, at any rate - feel like real-life encounters.

The format allows new material to be inserted to match performers and what is happening on the London scene - and if something proves not to work for audiences it is easily removed. I could see this show successfully having several more manifestations if the writers can come up with new material. It has obviously been carefully cast but it would be interesting to see it played with a smaller cast and actors given the opportunity to demonstrate their versatility in different roles.

Run ended 5th September 2010

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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