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A CurtainUp London London Review
Been So Long

You burnin into my mind
You kiss me with such liberation
Like a shooting star across my heart
You say that you want me
But I'm not just a runaround girl
You say that you need me
But I'm not here just to grind me and leave me
— Simone Verse from song "Universe of Love"
Been So Long
Arinze Kene (Raymond)
(Photo: Ellie Kurttz)
The Young Vic's latest offering from this excitingly diverse young people's theatre is a new rock/soul/jazzy musical based on the romantic/sexual relationship between a man who has just got out of prison and a single mother. Set in London's inner city community, Been So Long has been adapted from Che Walker's 1998 novel. Walker's The Frontline was the first modern day set play to be staged inside Shakespeare's Globe.

There are just five characters in this musical. The depressed barman Barney (Omar Lyefook) is mostly an observer as he eats his heart out for the lovely Simone (Cat Simmons). Simone and Yvonne (Naana Agyei-Ampadu) are friends but Yvonne in a foul mouthed fantasy yearns for a sexual encounter with a satyr on the top of Kite Hill ". . .he's got furry cleft hooves antlers on his forehead and a great tree branch for a dick." The only white member of the cast is Gil (Harry Hepple), a big time loser whose opening number is about losing his girlfriend to the sexually legendary Raymond. Raymond Le Geune (Arinze Kene) is the homme fatale, drop dead gorgeous"My body is the map of any conceivable female desire." He treats women as pieces of meat; that is until he meets Simone whohas issues with the father of her child leaving her alone to bring up a child with special needs and is not going to be anyone's one night stand.

The music is very accessible, the performances are astoundingly good and the young actors look perfect. However, the dialogue and lyrics are often raunchy and so sexually explicit that you might want to restrict those not yet at the age of consent from seeing it. The downside of showing this slice of ghetto life in a seedy bar (we're told that there are winners' bars and losers' bars) is that the endemic violence seems accepted. The portrayal of stereotypical behaviour makes one wonder if this is kind of negative generalisation the price we pay for edgy realism. When Gil wields a machete and threatens Raymond this may be commonplace on the streets of London but does its portrayal in the theatre make it more or less acceptable? br>
Naana Agyei-Ampadu as Yvonne belts out her numbers wearing a bright yellow dress as short as short can be and with a big bow on her derriere. Her singing voice is strong and ballsy. Cat Simmons as Simone has a sweet but powerful voice. Together their duet "Girls' Night Out" is a strong entrance song.

Che Walker's text and song lyrics seem poetic on the page but in delivery a lot of their strength and lyricism is lost because there is so much else going on. Arthur Darvill's rhythm and blues music hits the right note. This street sassy musical has powerful singing but the romantic, cheesy ending isn't really convincing.

Been So Long
Music & Lyrics: Arthur Darvill
Book & Lyrics: Che Walker
Directed by Che Walker

With: Naana Agyei-Ampadu, Harry Hepple, Arinze Kene, Omar Lyefook, Cat Simmons
Backing vocals: Gemma Knight Jones, Jenessa Qua, Samantha-Antoinette Smith
Choreographer: Bonnie Oddie
Design: Dick Bird
Lighting: Jon Clark
Fight Director: Kevin McCurdy
Running time: One hour 40 minutes without an interval
Booking to 14th July 2009 and then to the Edinburgh Festival
Box Office: 020 7922 2722
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge on 18th June 2009 performance at the Young Vic, the Cut, London SE1 (Tube: Rail/Waterloo)

Musical Numbers
  • Love Don't Drink Here
  • Been Too Long
  • Girls' Night Out
  • I want a Fella
  • Dream
  • Primus Humanus
  • Walk Like You Want Me
  • Fire
  • Rivers
  • Thunder and Gold
  • Anyone Can Change
  • If this is the Truth
  • Smile
  • This is What You Want
  • Universe of Love
  • Don't Go
  • Closing Up For Good
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