These two playwrights made such a lasting impression on the Whingerz last year that they’ve booked for a slew of playz at the newly appointed official powerhouse of interestingness, the Royal Court. And yes, since you asked, we intend to get very cheap gagz from milking Mike Bartlett’s Cock for years to come.
So, anyway, could Bola Agbaje’s Off the Endz make it a hat-trick for the Court?
David (Ashley Walters), Kojo (Daniel Francis) and Sharon (Lorraine Burroughs) grew up on a London estate – the Endz and now they want to get off the Endz. David is just out of prison and descends on the flat of his nurse ex-girlfriend Sharon and his “boy” (best friend) Kojo. Sharon and Kojo are grafting hard to get off the Endz while David is pursuing a short-cut involving setting up his own business as a drug dealer.
At about 1 hour and 20 minutes with no interval, Off The Endz buzzes comfortably along with a reassuring narrative thrust and some interesting dynamics. But more importantly the Whingerz did not feel, as they had fretted, that they would be totally at sea in young, black, working class culture.
There were some complicated handshakes but they came quite late in the play by which time the Whingerz had settled into the story which – while it isn’t going to set the world alight – is quite engaging. Ashley Walters is or was a member of The So Solid Crew, which is apparently (and we’re quoting here) an “electronic and urban musical collective” (yes, we happily admit we’re way out of our depth) which is probably a band or a group or something. But then they did produce an album with the graceful appellation”F**k It”, so what do we know?
Anyway, Walters is very good as the charismatic but deeply objectionable ex-con (well, he is an ex-con) but we do wonder if he regrets having his cognomen “Asher D” emblazoned in tattoo between his shoulder blades making David Beckham’s illustrative skin disfigurements look like a lesson in modesty. If he wants to forge an acting career and make audiences forget his past he’d better keep his shirt buttoned. But actually he keeps nothing buttoned here: this is literally butt naked territory at one point – yes you get a full on eyeful of Walters’ big endz.
Our only confusion really was how long David was supposed to have been in prison. His misunderstanding of the new realities of street life such as 10 year olds with guns suggested that he may have been banged up since about 1983 but that can’t be right.
Anyway, if the Whingerz watched Eastenders this is what they imagine it might be like. David’s railing against conformity – “Fitting in? You’re a drone”, “Free your mind – You’re slaves to the system” – doesn’t provide a dramatic enough argument when the only alternative proferred is drug dealing, although a late scene which juxtaposes bags of drugs with a House of Fraser carrier bag neatly sums up the whole discussion. The lavish production values for the many scene changes, whilst impressive, provide too many breaks in the action slowing things down. Both Whingerz had the same thought; wouldn’t this have been better served in the intensity of a smaller space like the Royal Courtz Upstairs?
Anyway, it was nice to see Rowenta and Breville among the play’s acknowledgements. Yes, there’s a working kettle and a hob which impressively cooks two real breakfasts on stage, not to mention an earlier fry-up of bacon and beanz. Phil had been far to busy attending first-night parties to attend to his food-on-stage thesis of late but the odour of cooking fat drifting up to his seat has made him pause for thought and eschew the hobnobbing for more cerebral matters.
Andrew, however, was less pleased with the rather perfunctory on-stage ironing which didn’t convince him at all (and you can’t pull the wool over Andrew’s eyes when it comes to ironing) and it did lead the Whingerz to wondering if the pressing was as sloppily done in the first play in the Royal Court’z ironing genre, Look Back In Anger.
Anyhow, the Whingerz found themselves having quite a little chat afterwards about the play and its meritz and demeritz which is a good sign. And we liked the fact that Endz was dezigned by Ultz. If it can’t be Lez, make it Ultz. But, no, not another Cock, no new Jerusalem builded here.