Off the Endz
Royal Court Theatre Downstairs
Anyone seeing Off The Endz, Bola Agbaje's debut in the Royal Court's premier space, must surely wonder whether there are really any people like David, the maniacal petty gangster around whom the story is built.
An impressive Ashley Walters plays a man who believes that the world owes him whatever he needs and does his best to make an irredeemably evil character seem lovable.
Having been released from prison, David's primary goal seems to be to get his return ticket in record time - that is, if a bullet doesn't prevent him.
Even if Davids exist, surely his childhood sweetheart, Lorraine Burroughs' Sharon, and their best friend, now her partner Kojo, played by Daniel Francis, would run a mile rather than humour such a poisonous personality.
In the play, pregnant Sharon invites David into their super-stylish, minimalist home, designed with great flair by Ultz. He lazes around, insults, assaults and tries to break the couple up but still inexplicably, they persevere with him.
The upwardly mobile couple may be struggling to take the next rung up life's ladder, in part it is suggested because they are Black, but even so, it is hard to see Kojo's motivation when he spends the deposit on their new home to set his old pal up as a drugs baron.
Some comedy arrives courtesy of a trio of teeny gun-toting punks who object to the cuckoo in their nest but also overtones of the fear that now exists on many London streets.
In the early scenes, David enjoys the kind of experiences familiar to David Mamet's Edmond, much to the amusement of the audience. As the play develops, his personality takes over not only his supposed friends with disastrous consequences but also a play that becomes too predictable.
The intention behind this play might well have been to make us consider whether dropping out of the system is as valid as conforming. However, it asks the question without offering too many answers despite Jeremy Herrin's slick production.
It is rare to leave a theatre disappointed that a play's protagonist did not catch the bullet directed at his gullible friend but that was the overwhelming feeling at the close of this 75 minute exploration of self-indulgent schadenfreude.
Bola Agbaje has already made a big impression Upstairs at this theatre with Gone Too Far and more recently, when the excellent Detaining Justice played at the Tricycle. This time around, while the idea of exploring gun power on London's streets is good, the delivery fails to make this critic suspend disbelief.
Playing until 13 March
Reviewer: Philip Fisher