Dolphins and Sharks

Reviewer's Rating

This riveting play comes to London from New York.  Author James Anthony Tyler creates a brilliant scenario in which the modern wage slaves of Harlem play out, in front of a spell-bound audience, a parable about greed, exploitation, and disunity. It starts out as a quick-fire comedy and gets darker as the story develops until, at the end, the characters turn to face the audience and ask a question that we all need to think about.

The play is set in a copy shop in Harlem – and the set design is ultra-realistic, even down to the rogue photo-copier that won’t shut down. There are only five characters on stage – four employees and a customer – but there is a very significant sixth character off-stage, Mr Timmons, the owner of the business. As the play opens Yusuf, a young college graduate, turns up desperate for a sales job in the shop and finds that Mr Timmons has delegated the task of interviewing him to Xiomara, a tough Latino woman who is one of the staff there. This very first encounter sets the tone for the play – the dialogue is fast and very funny but it also begins to lay the ground for the web of relationships that leads to the conflict with which the play ends.

Rachel Handshaw as Xiomara, the ambitious but unhappy Latino woman, and Ammar Duffus as Yusuf, the philosophy graduate with a Nigerian heritage, are both superb, establishing an entirely credible workplace relationship that combines trust and doubt. And when the effervescent Shyko Amos, playing African-American sales worker Isabel, joins the group the sparks fly. The friendship between the two women, long term allies against previous store managers, generates a wit and warmth that sets the whole piece alight. Their dialogue is almost too fast to follow at times but their affection for each other seems rock-solid. The quintet is completed by the janitor Danilo and the customer Amenze. These roles, played with wit and depth by Hermeilio Miquel Aquino and Miquel Brown, complete the ensemble cast of characters.

Their struggles to survive in a harsh world – where hard work and good customer service count for nothing when faced with the absent owner’s demand for more profits – begin to undermine the seemingly solid friendships. When Xiomara gets the manager’s job the cracks begin to emerge and we see the pressures that might lead them to turn on each other. This play is funny, fast paced, warm-hearted and ultimately very challenging. Director Lydia Parker does a stunning job of keeping the elements well-balanced and getting top quality performances out of her small cast. This is off-west-end theatre at its very best – go and see it.