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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Frontline

This whole city is swimming in the ghosts of madmen who feel they shoulda got a better deal— Miruts
The Frontline
Benu Tessema as Mituts and Kurt Egyiawan as Salim
(Photo: Manuel Harlan)
The Frontline is an exceedingly modern play in the authentic Elizabethan setting of the Globe and this brash contrast acts as its basic premise. Ché Walker's new play is set outside Camden Town tube station late one night and celebrates the wild morass of humanity you could reasonably expect to find there. London, like any big city, is full of people on the edge of society and of sanity: this play portrays and celebrates them with violence, humour, song and dance.

With a kaleidoscopic view, The Frontline is a set of vibrant, messy vignettes rather than showing a tightly constructed, linear plotline. Stories are interwoven and dialogue is overlapped, all with frantic energy and a sense of raucous and boisterous fun. The rich variety of characters encompasses a wide ethnic and social range: from London Underground workers to drag queens, or hot-dog sellers to drug dealers.

With a cast of over twenty, there is a certain amount of schizophrenic energy and at any one moment, there are at least two scenes demanding the audience's attention. The set design (by Paul Wills) celebrates the neon modernity of the plot, with a skeleton phone box, a pink-lit Fantasy Bar sign and the traditional Globe columns wrapped in black plastic. Nevertheless, Ché Walker's writing has a strong sense of history, suggesting that modern day Camden closely echoes the demi-monde of Victorian London and, more tenuously, the wild beast-infested pre-historic past. Therefore, the snap-shot contemporariness is anchored in the continuity of time.

The parallel plots focus on a number of storylines. The main character is Miruts (Benu Tessema) a talented but disaffected rapper of Ethiopian origin. He demonstrates how easy it is for individuals, even when surrounded by other people, to slip through the net of society and embrace self-destruction. The instrument of this destruction is Cockburn (Robert Gwilym) a menacing character who represents a force of negativity and violence.

Other cameo-scenarios include a Christian group headed by Beth (Golda Rosheuval) who is tempted to return to drugs via her former lover Roderique (Fraser James), or Marcus (Mo Sesay) the genial, gentle "fight virgin" bodyguard. His love interest is the feisty, articulate Violet (Jo Martin), but he also has to contend with her teenage, tantrum-prone daughter Babydoll (Naana Agyei-Ampadu). With panache and humour, Trystan Gravelle plays Mordechai Thurrock: a vegan, egoistic yet unsuccessful playwright. He strides around with purpose and desperation, while telling himself: "You are a tsunami of talent". And there is the elderly, crazed Ragdale (Paul Copley) in permanent search of his daughter among the nether world of North London.

As if the sheer variety of the characters and stories is not enough, the play enjoys a rich texture of music and dance. Therefore, the "turn off your mobile phone" message is rapped, the Jesus group sings with gospel-style power and street fights are impressively choreographed with martial arts skills.

Brave and ambitious, this play is deliberately messy and sprawling. Matthew Dunster's production is a collage-style elegy to modern humanity and the social whirlpool, the people many regard as the dregs of society, all presented in an energetic barrage of theatre.

The Frontline
Written by Ché Walker
Directed by Matthew Dunster

With: Naana Agyei-Ampadu, Ben Bishop, Sally Bretton, Kellie Bright, Paul Copley, Peter Hamilton Dyer, Kurt Egyiawan, Huss Garbiya, Trystan Gravelle, Robert Gwilym, Fraser James, Danny Lee Wynter, Paul Lloyd, Kevork Malikyan, Jo Martin, Jodie McNee, Matthew Newtion, Ashley Rolfe, Golda Rosheuvel, Mo Sesay, John Stahl, Lorraine Stanley, Beru Tessema
Designer: Paul Wills
Composer: Olly Fox
Songs: Arthur Darvill, Olly Fox and Ché Walker
Choreographer: Georgina Lamb
Running time: 2 hour 40 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7401 9919
Booking to 17th August 2008
Reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge based on 9th July 2008 performance at Shakepeare's Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, London, SE1 9DT (Tube: London Bridge)
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