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Step

Lynette Linton
The Young Actors Company
Theatre Royal, Stratford East

Step

When two young Londoner friends go off to different universities they find themselves making new friends and living different lives from what they have been used to back home in Newham. Lynette Linton’s play captures that point of readjustment to changed horizons, fresh challenges and new discoveries about oneself.

A play that will immediately connect with her own generation, it kicks off with a burst of rap and moves easily between domestic dialogue, online Skype conversations and more rap episodes. It even features a pair of characters that personify the thoughts inside a person’s head. This is writing that has a sense of theatre in its structure and its style.

Kara and Tyrone seem to have been an item for some time. Now they are being separated. Young Tyrone writes rap, with good bouncing rhymes that make verse a quite natural means of communication. He’s black, but this isn’t a play about colour. It isn’t racism that these students have to deal with, it’s themselves. It is not only people with different backgrounds, from different cultures and of different sexualities they have to cope with, it’s discovering unexpected feelings in themselves and changes in friends about whom they knew everything, or thought they did.

Linton acknowledges that she has drawn on her own experience of starting university and was influenced by James Baldwin’s writing about the fluidity of sexuality and that forms part of her story—seen from the inside as it were. There is conflict with those who don’t see or understand what is happening and accepting student attitudes contrast with the homophobia in other quarters.

There is nothing mawkish or sentimental about her writing; she writes as it is and these young performers give their characters a natural immediacy.

Lauren La Roque is a sparky Kara this is a young woman you would not want to cross, and Urbaine Ngendahayo captures Tyrone’s mixture of excitement and confusion. Rosella Doda is his easygoing flatmate Kelly and Alexander Theo makes Adam, the third in that household, just sufficiently fluttery to be recognisably gay even for those lacking any kind of gaydar. Juliet Okotie plays Kara’s new African friend, Sarbjot Singh and Feyesa Wakjira do a lively double act as Kara’s inner voices and Tobi Bamtefa delivers a particularly mature performance as Tyrone’s dad.

All these performances must owe a great deal to director (and mentor) Rikki Beadle-Blair who has mounted the play very simply using the theatre’s stage as a studio with the actors lined up on castor-mounted chairs against the iron, the only décor large photos of the cast hung against it and lighting to focus attention.

Those mobile chairs are used to glide the characters in so that scene follows scene with cinematic speed. Beadle-Blair instantly establishes when they are chatting online by turning the chairs out to face opposite sides of the audience and creates an eruption of energy when the script turns to rap. Despite the seriousness of its underlying themes he has also kept it very funny, not the easiest balance for actors with limited experience.

Step, which is Linton’s first play, was developed as part of the Angelic Tales New Writing Festival which the theatre Royal runs in partnership with Beadle-Blair’s Team Angelica. It has already toured schools and community centres to a lively response and she is now working on developing it from its present 50-minute length to a 90-minute drama.

The Young Actors Company is a Theatre Royal initiative unique in East London that enables young people between 16 and 24 to gain hands-on experience of working in the performing arts. Each year, a team of training facilitators not only provide an intensive drama school-like training scheme for young actors, directors, stage managers and producers but they get to work with a leading director on a production like this one.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton