Once an Irish enclave, ‘County Kilburn’ has undergone a transformation within the lifetime of the Tricycle Theatre, that beacon of culture among the betting shops, charity shops, pound shops, public houses and fast food outlets that line Kilburn High Road. It is one of the most ethnically diverse areas of London, where the accents of Mayo, Mogadishu and Moldova combine into a biblical babble. Fittingly, the accents of West Africa, the West Indies, Eastern Europe and South America were all to be heard on the stage of the Tricycle Theatre last night, competing with the ‘Estuary English’ and ‘Mockney’ favoured by many of London’s youngsters. The actors of the Tricycle Young Company are indeed young, and truly representative of Kilburn’s ethnic and linguistic diversity. They tackled a play about youngsters with great brio and enthusiasm.
What a pity, then, that the play itself is such a dog’s breakfast. The two principal actors play a brother and sister whose father dies, and who are at loggerheads most of the time. The brother is a jobseeker, and has to do unpaid work experience at Poundland, for which he is mocked by his peers. There is a squat occupied by a motley crew of residents, with a self-appointed middle class do-gooder as their leader. There are placard-waving protests, interspersed with police harassment and media interviews. There are scenes in a hospital, at a Job Centre, and by the father’s grave, punctuated with dream sequences where the sister is tormented in her bed.
With a large ensemble cast switching into different roles, and with numerous scene-changes, it is hard to know what is going on or, ultimately, to care. Some of the dialogue is quite witty, as when a speaker is asked whether she means “in it” or “innit?”, or when the store manager tries to sound streetwise and in-touch. Alas, there are also a lot of clichés, served up with a large helping of political correctness. There is nothing wrong with a play that has a political axe to grind, provided it does not descend into didacticism. But this play is all over the place. Full marks to the cast for their youthful gusto. But they need a play with a better structure and story-line to show off their talents.