Christina Alagaratnam’s exploration of three young black lives really packs a powerful punch in unexpected ways.
It can be difficult to highlight such a difficult topic as the difficulties that young black men and women continue to face in this country and how they are treated with negative connotations that then go on to have an impact on the adult part of their lives in the space of 85 minutes, but writer Christina Alagaratnam does so with great passion and insight.
PlayFight follows three 15 year old best friends: Kai, TJ and Zara who have been close since their early childhood, but as they have got older they have begun to realise that the way in which they are treated is different to many of their peers at school. This leads them to deal with things differently – in particular TJ and Kai struggle with not being treated equally, being stopped and searched by the police and getting different grades to others in their class for example. But when a fight between the pair over Zara, it soon sees the breakdown of friendship and taking different paths in their lives.
Directed with precision and clarity by Leian John-Baptiste, the production is effective, ensuring that the more thoughtful and powerful messages of the play shine brightly through, but delicately balancing the humour to be found in the script as well. Many of the powerful moments in the wake of the tragedy that emerges are enhanced further thanks to Filip Vermieren’s lighting design that highlights the sense of isolation and loneliness that all of the characters experience – whether due to poverty or due to the racism that becomes a daily part of their lives – is particularly haunting. The simplicity in the way in which Baptiste brings moments including the moments after which TJ is stabbed is more vivid and powerful for relying on the audience seeing his experience of dying through his eyes, thanks to wonderful movement direction by Rhys Dennis.
It would be fair to say that Alagaratnam’s script is particularly effective in reflecting the lives of TJ and Kai, whose insecurities are on constant display and that leads to anger and mistakes in their lives, that sees one taking back control of his life but the other losing his way due to the anger and overriding feeling of not being good enough to deserve to follow his dreams. She has created characters who are instantly relatable and feel as though you are embarking on their journey with them – you smile, laugh and ultimately cry with them. While the language that Alagaratnam uses can feel on occasion a bit repetitive and doesn’t feel as though it pushes the story forward quite as much as it could, it is also raw and honest.
Praise should of course also be given to the cast, who really give their all to each of these characters. Ian Gordon as Kai is particularly heartbreaking to watch as his insecurities and anger take root and have a massive impact on his life choices that is really affecting to watch unfold. Landry Adelard as TJ also undergoes each of the changes that his character goes through with great ease and style, while Carla Garratt as Zara is a nice foil for both of them – feisty but sympathetic at the same time. They are certainly three performers to look out for in the future.
Raw, thoughtful and passionate this is 85 minutes that flies by, PlayFight has a lot to say and does so in a concise way that will stay with you long after the show has finished.
By Emma Clarendon
PlayFight continues to play at the Seven Dials Playhouse until the 5th August 2023.