Statement of Regret

Kwame Kwei-Armah
RNT Cottesloe
(2007)

Clifford Samuel (Adrian Mackenzie), Don Warrington (Kwaku Mackenzie)

The highlight of this evening in the last of what popular actor/playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah describes as a literary triptych of plays set in the habitats of the African-Caribbean (following Elmina's Kitchen and Fix Up) is actor Don Warrington's desperate cry of pain and rage for his character's enslaved ancestors.

The subject matter of Statement of Regret is a topic rarely aired on stage, racism within the black community. Although Warrington's central figure, Kwaku (né Derek) McKenzie has gone out of his mind by this stage, his championing of the Caribbean Black over his African brother is potentially a fascinating and controversial topic.

In the early scenes, the playwright appears to be writing a light sitcom about life in a black PR agency, doubling as a think-tank that hopes to support Britain's first-ever Minister for Race.

The éminence grise is Kwaku, a man with a cupboard full of skeletons that are all waiting to appear on stage in the next 2 1/4 hours. As the play opens on Mike Britton's bright two-tier set, the team is filled with enthusiasm at the organisation's success in promoting a minister from their own people. This, however, is their zenith.

The boss, who soon reveals himself as a rum-swilling tinpot dictator, has returned from a three-month holiday to discover that his colleagues believe that his ideas are outmoded. The younger generation represented by gay Idrissa, impressively portrayed by Chu Omambala, but supported by his colleagues are beginning to look elsewhere for the company's future direction and stability in a world where "self-flagellating liberalism is dead".

However, Kwaku has any number of trumps up his sleeve to enliven the evening. He may be closing in on retirement age with a wife and son working alongside him but he is sleeping with pretty but highly intelligent Issi (played by Angel Coulby). Even more surprisingly, he comes up with a corporate makeover that thrusts his almost insolvent company into the headlines.

When his son by his African wife, Javone Prince's self-important but insecure Kwaku Junior, begins to get ideas above his station, a new intern Adrian comes onto the scene. Clifford Samuel takes the part of an Oxford graduate but also a high-quality American doctorate who seems to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. He is also the old man's son from a West Indian second family that he ran concurrently with the first. Thus the two boys come to symbolise the dichotomy that the writer seeks to explore.

The arrival of haughty Adrian is enough to cause dissension, before Kwaku presses the self-destruct button and descends into madness, possibly related to the Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome that his younger son studied in the States.

As he disintegrates, he gets little support from anybody but the calming Clifford James as Soby, an ageing man whose secret provides a somewhat predictable key to a number of the play's mysteries.

Eventually, all gets a little silly as Kwaku runs roughshod over all of his colleagues and takes his younger son on to a TV show when he drunkenly drawls his way into the headlines. Thereafter, all that is left is for the families to get together and pick up the pieces before it is too late.

On the way though, several actors get the opportunity to deliver meaningful monologues and, in addition to Warrington's tour de force, the actors playing Kwaku's sons each give impassioned speeches as they try to persuade their father to seek the psychiatric help that he so desperately needs.

Ultimately, the message has a lot going for it but, despite some humorous moments and set pieces, the medium doesn't have the strength to support a fresh and really interesting idea. Kwame Kwei-Armah and his director Jeremy Herrin struggle to turn the concept into a coherent play, as the people portrayed lack psychological depth and behave inconsistently in order to make often relevant and important political or cultural points.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher