Ché Walker on 'The Frontline' and Camden

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As Ché Walker’s new play, ‘The Frontline’, explores the murky side of Camden, he and three of the actors tell Time Out what the area means to them

  • Ché Walker on 'The Frontline' and Camden

    On 'The Frontline': Fraser James, Jodie McNee, Beru Tessema, Ché Walker (© Ed Marshall)

  • Ché Walker

    ‘I was born and raised in south Camden, just behind Mornington Crescent station, on the borders of Somers Town, which is the poorer, less fashionable area. My parents moved there from east London after they graduated from drama college. Lots of actors had settled in Camden because of the cheap rents, and the flat was often used as a rehearsal room. John Hurt rented the spare room when he was studying at Rada. There were big loud debates about radical politics and the purpose of theatre, singalongs with badly played guitars – it was that kind of vibe. We had some very rough pubs on our block, and my mum didn’t really like me going out much at night, but I could watch it all from my bedroom window as a kid – broken glass, street fights, mad alkies singing at the top of their lungs, glue-sniffers in the park: wonderful theatre for free every night, with a rotating cast of committed performers. ‘Discovering Camden Lock as a teenager in the ’80s was wild! I used to sit up on the bridge by the canal, smoke a spliff and watch it all parade past: punks, rastas, rockabillies, soul boys, skinheads, drag queens, goths, all tribes, all hues, all ages. Camden taught me to be curious about people. ‘I have worked as a youth worker and a drama teacher in the borough for almost 20 years now. Young people have never been more at risk. It always makes me laugh when people from outside the borough talk about ‘trendy Camden’ – look at the drug arrest rates, the street-crime arrest rates, the high youth unemployment. Don’t be fooled just because Kate Moss and Amy Winehouse swing by for a pint now and then.‘I think that the destruction of the Stables is an act of appalling cultural vandalism. And my favourite bookshop, Offstage Books, was forced to close when the rent was tripled overnight. Change and evolution has always been a feature of Camden, but this kind of change is tragic – commerce is at war with creativity and individuality, which is what made the area so popular in the first place.’

    Jodie McNee

    ‘My character is Polish. She’s addicted to crack cocaine and speaks in Polish all the way through. ‘One night we all went down to Camden and observed what was going on. But I see it all the time, as I live in Kentish Town. I really like the Stables. In the daytime I like all the little different shops but at night there are cool places to go like the Proud Gallery and the Lock Tavern.‘During the day Camden’s very touristy and then of a night-time you see that everyone is really messed up. It’s two different worlds in one. There are a lot of homeless people, people who are mentally ill and people who are addicted to heroin. There’s quite an aggressive feel to it and it’s full of pain.’

    Fraser James

    ‘I play Roderique, a functioning junkie with psychopathic tendencies.‘I was born in Camden Square. My favourite place, just because it’s where I was always trying to jump up as a boy, is where you go over the bridge looking towards London Zoo. In recent times, I’ve walked through with my three-year-old twins and I was not best pleased with the vibe in the area at all. All that we’ve got in the play is definitely happening in Camden.‘I remember Camden in the ’70s and it was the best vibe. There were hippy colonies there. I saw my first woman naked in Camden in one of those colonies. So I’ve got really vibrant and pleasant memories of the place!’

    Beru Tessema

    ‘I’m playing someone who sells weed for a living. If you walk through Camden, you’ll see a lot of guys who do that day in, day out. Ché has given this character a voice and he is able to articulate why he is the way he is. He goes beyond the stereotype and I haven’t seen that in any other urban contemporary play.‘I moved to London from Ethiopia when I was eight and I’ve more or less lived in Camden for 15 years. I live in Inverness Street and they’ve got a few nice bars there. I was working on “Happy-Go-Lucky” recently and they filmed a scene in Bar Vinyl. For music, there’s a place called the Oh! Bar and that’s where you’ll often find me on Saturdays. It’s a nice place to chill.’The Frontline’ previews at Shakespeare’s Globe from July 6.

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