Tag Archives: Jeffrey Kissoon

Platters and Matters

RUDY’S RARE RECORDS

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 9th September, 2014

 

Initially a sitcom on BBC Radio 4, Rudy’s Rare Records gets the full stage treatment in this new incarnation at Birmingham’s REP theatre. Set in an old-school, old-fashioned and mouldering record shop, it is mostly about family dynamics, especially the relationships of men across the generations. Lenny Henry is Adam, a middle-aged divorcee with middle-class pretensions who returns to Handsworth to care for his aged and ailing father Rudy (Larrington Walker) but lifelong tensions are never far from the surface. Add to the mix, Adam’s son Richie (Joivan Wade) who is dropping out of university and the scene is set for some lambasting rows – with some very funny putdowns and mickey-taking. Danny Robins’s script is rich with one-liners and sparkling with wit, and he shares them out equally between his main three and the other characters. We meet Tasha (Natasha Godfrey) perhaps the world’s only black Goth, florist Clifton (Jeffery Kissoon) and Rudy’s on-and-off-again girlfriend Doreen (Lorna Gayle). It’s a fine ensemble of very strong performances.

There is an almost constant accompanying soundtrack, performed live by an excellent quartet in the backroom of Rudy’s shop and often the characters break out into song – the songs I remember from the jukebox in my dad’s Dudley pub. Nostalgia is a theme: how can record shops like this compete with iTunes and Amazon, the question is asked, ‘when we pay tax!’ The script has a satirical edge and dark notes of political and social commentary. We have survived racism, they declare, but now the old hatred is rising again only this time it’s called ‘migration’.  Comments like this give the setting a reality but the emphasis is on the personal rather than the political.  We can’t help liking these people because of the fun they provide so anything that threatens or upsets them from outside there little bubble, these unseen off-stage villains, we are immediately against. Within the bubble the inter-character conflicts touch us too: There is a smashing version of No, No, No by the frustrated and heartbroken Doreen.

The emphasis though is on the fun – they’re a lovely bunch with whom to spend some time. It takes a long time for the plot to get going – there is talk of developers wishing to buy up all the local businesses, Rudy is defiantly neglecting his debts – but all the tension is packed into the last ten minutes of a lengthy first act. The second act is mainly a rooftop fundraising concert, with Lenny Henry’s character stepping up and giving us a treat of a rendition of The Israelites.

Music is of course the raison d’etre of the shop and becomes the glue that binds the community and the family together. It’s no surprise there is a happy resolution to all the conflicts – this is still sitcom territory, after all. On the whole, the show is a joyous affair that makes you laugh out loud. So what if you can’t catch every single word of Rudy’s patois – the tone and delivery are clear enough (one of the characters observes that Rudy’s appearance on local TV had to be subtitled!) – and there are heart-warming moments that keep on the right side of sentimentality. Henry, Walker and Wade make a volatile but lovable family, and they are supported by some fine comic playing by Kissoon, Gayle and Godfrey.  A mix of Brummie and Jamaican culture, it is fundamentally a very British piece – we see ‘British values’ (if such things exist!) in action.  It’s not just an old record shop at threat in today’s society but a way of life.

With a tighter dramatic structure, the play would really hit home, but for a laugh-a-minute, ultimately touching night out, you’d be hard-pressed to find better.

Unlike father unlike son: Lenny Henry and Larrington Walker

Unlike father unlike son: Lenny Henry and Larrington Walker Photo: Robert Day

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Conspiracy Practice

JULIUS CAESAR
RST, Stratford upon Avon, Tuesday 19th June, 2012

Transported from Ancient Rome to present-day Africa, Shakespeare’s political thriller gains in the more obvious political relevance and loses some of the thrills. Gregory Doran’s production gets off to a lively start with the huge cast celebrating onstage as the audience comes in. The mood is broken by the arrival of soldiers to subdue and police the crowd. Julius Caesar is awarded unprecedented powers by the senate but not everyone is in favour. A group of conspirators plot and carry out his assassination only to find the tide of public opinion turns against them. They are hunted down. The main players commit suicide to avoid capture.

That’s the plot in a nutshell. What the play is about in my view is the persuasive power of language. People are always talking others into or out of doing things. Shakespeare’s masterstroke is the famous speech by Mark Antony, whose rhetoric is irresistible. Unfortunately, I found Ray Fearon’s muscular Antony a little too mannered in this speech, leaning on the accent rather than the words. He may as well have been singing to the mob. A shame this, in an otherwise impressive characterisation – he built the “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war” speech to a perfect crescendo.

Jeffrey Kissoon as Caesar is a charismatic, avuncular dictator, comfortable with his status. The audience knows that those he holds nearest are up to no good and the tension of expectation leading up to the assassination is nicely built. From then on, the production becomes patchier. There are some moments and strong touches (I liked the Soothsayer as a shaman/witchdoctor figure, looming over pivotal scenes) but the action becomes muddied. The corpse of Caesar is like a bag of washing that has been run over – Wisely, the mob conceals it from view.

Paterson Joseph’s Brutus is a complex character – a mix of strong-jawed political conviction and wet-eyed sentiment. His relationship with young servant Lucius (Simon Manyonda) brings humour and warmth – the image of boys with firearms is all too familiar from media coverage, although I suspect their allegiance to the local warlord is born of something other than filial affection. Manyonda stole the show, proving you don’t need the showcase speeches and the spotlight to create an affecting, rounded and beautiful performance.

The set is mainly stone steps, worn and chipped, dominated by a humongous statue with a fascistic salute. Of course, the statue is toppled – it’s Revolutionary Symbolism 101, but I felt disengaged long before this point. I didn’t care that the conspirators had failed. I didn’t care that they had been caught. The pertinence of the play – the transitory nature of power – shed no new light on current situations. I suppose I wanted to be startled into realising something. I wasn’t.

And two-and-a-half hours without an interval is too long a time to sit in those RST pews.