East End Boys, West End Girls

Theatre
2 out of 5 stars
'East End Boys, West End Girls'
Thabo Jaiyesimi 'East End Boys, West End Girls'

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

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An unsubtle script about growing up at different ends of the city.

Between the two Westfields lies a world of divisions: of cultures and classes, of wealth and opportunity, of have and have not. Ade Solanke’s coming of age play clumsily bashes its way through these themes via the mouths of four teenagers.

At a scholarship exam for an expensive school, two east London boys, the best of friends, meet two west London girls, also the best of friends. The boys are coming to terms with the fact that their friendship may have to change: Tobi (Alhaji Fofana) is bright and Olly (a brilliantly mopey and cynical Ismail Kamara) doesn’t want him to go off to a posh school, but it could be the best chance Tobi has to hop on the social mobility scooter. The girls talk about dresses and boys.

Wooden cubes painted in bright primary colours that cover the stage are well suited to the tone of the play: it’s broad brushstroke politics, crude and simplistic. Faux Pet Shop Boys music accompanies scene changes, with synth drums that are irritatingly out of time.

Though its heart is in the right place, a heavy hand hammers at the differences between the boys and the girls, between east and west, between rich and poor, black and white in a lifeless script. Scenes that alternate between the boys chatting to each other and the girls chatting to each other quickly devolve into barely veiled lectures about money, inequality, insularity. The lesson may well be necessary, but this is not how 16-year-olds speak. In fact, it’s not how anyone speaks. The only glimmer of authenticity in the teens’ speech is their apparent unfamiliarity with anything close to nuance.

One one hand, Solanke offers a grim view of a vast and disparate city. Life’s challenges may be more overt in the East End, but the girls are surrounded by pushy parents, exam pressure and self-harm. On the other, the play is occasionally quite sweet and always earnest. But it risks entrenching class and racial stereotypes, rather than offering any new perspective. It’s a noble cause pummelled with a ham-fist.

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