White Boy

Tanika Gupta
National Youth Theatre
Soho Theatre
(2008)

Does one look at a play like White Boy from one's own point of view or from the point of view of a teenager towards whom this play is essentially geared? This is not particularly because of the content, although the themes in White Boy are very relevant to teenagers, but it is more the style of the production that very much appeals to an MTV audience.

I would not dare to patronise a teenage audience by presuming to know how they will react to a piece of theatre such as White Boy but I do not have to dig too deep to recall those troublesome school days and think how I would have reacted to this production back then.

Returning to the Soho Theatre after its run back in August, the National Youth Theatre's production of White Boy looks at what it means to be a teenage white boy in today's ethnically diverse Britain. Luke Norris as Ricky, who is almost more black than the black characters themselves, swaggered about the stage with his twitching mannerisms speaking in an unfaltering Jamaican dialect; determined to be just like his "black bruv" Victor (Obi Iwumene). Colour is just skin deep right? Or is it more than that? Are there different histories, different cultural influences, all of which shape the people we become and create something that cannot be imitated?

Whilst on the surface White Boy is the same as many other pieces of urban realism depicting the often shocking actions of teenagers today and their consequences, Tanika Gupta's playground felt fresher and more current with the portrayal of the character Sorted (Timi Fadipe) who gave a sensitive performance of a young refugee from Sudan, trying to fit into this new world but still carrying the burden of the world he has left behind.

Under Juliet Knight's direction White Boy had a vibrant energy about it that can only emerge from seeing teenagers playing teenagers rather than actors in their mid twenties trying to pass themselves off as these hip youngsters. Vanetia Campbell as Zara captured perfectly the liveliness of a young girl at school with her mates, excited about the new love of her life but naïve about the repercussions of certain actions.

The action was constantly on the move with scenes of naturalism juxtaposed with scenes that were highly stylised. The two for the most part worked seamlessly together and the play had a real fluidity to it. However towards the end it began to feel slightly contrived with the introduction of musical instruments and members of the cast singing. Whilst undoubtedly talented, it began to feel like a showcase for all their abilities.

White Boy worked best when it was stripped bare, exposing the raw and frustrated emotions of these kids but at times, due to some unnecessary theatrics, the message felt laboured. What could have been "wicked" was just "alriiiiiiight".

Running until 9th February

Rachel Sheridan