A boy is found dead. D.C. Joe Stephens must return to his old neighbourhood to investigate. Shanice is avoiding his questions about her boyfriend, Emile, and his mates. Ronnie saw something, but promised Shanice she’d say nothing. But when a reward is offered, keeping quiet becomes a major test of their street loyalty.
FALLOUT is Roy Williams third play for the Royal Court. His previous play CLUBLAND won the 2001 Evening Standard Charles Wintour Award for Most Promising Playwright, and LIFT OFF (RCT/NT Studio) was joint winner of the George Devine Award 2000. His other work includes SING YER HEART OUT FOR THE LADS (NT), THE GIFT (Birmingham Rep), LOCAL BOY (Hampstead), NIGHT AND DAY (Theatre Venture), THE NO-BOYS CRICKET CLUB (Theatre Royal Stratford East), JOSIE’S BOYS (Red Ladder) and SOULS (Theatre Centre). He was the first recipient of the Alfred Fagan Award and winner of both the John Whiting Award 1997 and the EMMA Award 1999 for STARSTRUCK (Tricycle).
Directed by Ian Rickson
Design: Ultz, Lighting: Nigel J Edwards, Sound: Ian Dickinson, Music: Stephen Warbeck.
Cast: Lorraine Brunning, OT Fagbenle, Jason Frederick, Lennie James, Petra Letang, Marcel McCalla, Michael Obiora, Daniel Ryan, Ony Uhiara, Clive Wedderburn.
Supported by JERWOOD NEW PLAYWRIGHTS
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Dates in June
|Thu 12 Jun 2003||12:00am||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs|
Sold out Performances
Pictured (L to R): Michael Obiora, Ony Uhiara, Marcel McCalla; Lennie James, Daniel Ryan; Michael Obiora, Marcel McCalla; OT Fagbenle, Michael Obiora, Marcel McCalla, Jason Frederick, Lennie James
Photography by Gautier Deblonde
Direction: Ian Rickson; Design: Ultz; Lighting Design: Nigel J. Edwards; Sound Design: Ian Dickinson; Music: Stephen Warbeck
Cast: Lorraine Brunning, O-T Fagbenle, Jason Frederick, Lennie James, Petra Letang, Marcel McCalla, Michael Obiora, Daniel Ryan, Ony Uhiara, Clive Wedderburn
Few writers are better than Roy Williams at exploring the contradictions of our multicultural society. His first Royal Court play, Lift Off, showed how white kids imitate their black counterparts. And his latest play overturns expectation showing how, in a teenager murder investigation, it is the black rather than the white cop who indulges in racist stereotyping.
The physical space itself has also been overturned. On top of the Royal Court stalls the designer, Ultz, has created an artificial stage resembling a wire-meshed basket ball court. This becomes the arena for a police probe into the killing of a bookish black teenager, Kwame, bound for university. All the accusatory evidence points to a guy called Emile who hangs out with a gang of local tearaways. But while Matt, the cop assigned to the case, is prepared to proceed patiently, his black sidekick, Joe, fatally cuts corners by over-identifying with the dead boy.
What Williams pins down brilliantly is the corrosive envy that pervades a culture of limited opportunities. Kwame, we deduce, has been killed because he wanted to escape the herd mentality of bleak housing estates. And this has repercussions at police level. Having like-wise lifted himself out of a rut, Joe cannot forgive the brutal ethos of the street gangs. From this Williams creates scenes of biting irony in which Joe yearns for the old school of police while his white colleague is imbued with a post- McPherson, liberal evenhandedness
But Williams ironies do not stop there. He also shows how sex complicated the issue. Much of the action revolves around the fatal attraction of Shanice (played with astonishing poise by Ony Uhiara) who runs the local caf. On one level, she is a well-intentioned girl who sympathises with the dead Kwames desire to escape. But, as Emiles girlfriend, she shows loyalty to the gang and is even prepared to intimidate her ex-teacher who had her kicked out of school for petty theft.
My only cavil about the show is that the opening scene is played for violence so that we miss out some of the plot information. Otherwise Ian Ricksons production does justice both to the plays moral contradictions and its visceral impact. And there are good performances from Lennie James as the self-destructive Joe, Daniel Ryan as the fair-minded colleague, Marcel McCalla as the insecure Emile and Michael Obiora as the gang leader. But what is impressive is Williams capacity for telling the truth and for exposing the division that exists with what we patronisingly term the black community.
Michael Billington, THE GUARDIAN 18 June 2003
Compelling Attraction of Opposites
One of the two London detectives in Roy Willimass Fallout takes a pretty cynical view of the teenagers he suspects of killing an African boy. He dismisses them as niggers, low-life black bastards who ought to have topped themselves. And he regards his partner Matt, who winces at words and talks primly of the need to reform the Met, as a wishy-washy liberal, a Guardian reader.
If theyd taken part at the Royal Court in a play about murder on a sink estate 20 years ago, it would have been a safe bet that the first of these cops, Joe, would have been white and vicious. But Williams is himself a black dramatist, and a notably incisive one, and he isnt interested in smarming up to Court audiences with glib, bash-the-fascist Fallout, Lennie Jamess Joe is astute, angry and black.
The reasons for Joes contempt, when they become clear, are a bit more obvious and less complex than Id hoped; but paradoxically, its testimony to the plays overall quality that they seem that way.
Fallout is essentially a reflection on race, law and order in the aftermath of the Stephen Lawrence and, especially the Damilola Taylor cases and combines the intelligence with impact.
You know Williamss gang is to be feared the moment the play begins with a giant crash, and four hooded teenagers roar up from the Courts bowels into a stalls area that has been reconfigured to become a vast, wire-encircled stage. And, yes they carry out robberies and pull guns and knives out on each other when they think they have been wronged or dissed. Their girls, school dropouts or (more accurately) chuckouts, are equally wild and, as witness the mugging of a hated teacher, almost as dangerous.
Yet as youd expect of a play in which the man with the most openly racist views is black, everything is contradictory. Williamss gift is to suggest, without becoming sentimental or offering excuses, that his hoodlums are also callow, frightened, vulnerable and confused. As a result, the play is often disconcertingly funny. You my Dad? indignantly yells the gang leader, Michael Obioras Dwayne, when Joe gives him a dressing-down. maybe whats yer mothers name? comes the reply.
A street robbery ends with a silly, schoolboy quarrel about bus money, and the explanation for the death of Kwame, the young African and aspiring college boy whose head is used as a football, isnt simply what you might expect: that his superior manners and mind have excited the others jealousy. Sex and human error play more important parts. But to say more about a plot introduces a counter-part of the girl witness in the Taylor case remember the one who wanted fast food and cable TV and reward money? would be to spoil your enjoyment of Ian Ricksons cast. Obiora, James, Marcel McCalla, Ony Uhiara, Petra Letang: together, they create a scary, riveting and (above all) believable world.
Benedict Nightingale, THE TIMES 18 June 2003
You stagger out of Roy Williamss new play feeling both exhilarated and shattered. Exhilarated because this drama marks the moment when a promising dramatist spectacularly achieves his full potential; shattered because the play, though shot through with humour, is as bleak and persuasive an account of black youth culture in Britain today as you are ever likely to encounter.
In a spectacularly reconfigured Royal Court auditorium, with the acting area built over the stalls and the audience looking down from the circle, the play begins with four black youths putting the boot into an unseen victim on a fight of stairs.
When next we encounter these young thugs, they are strutting their macho stuff in a fast-food restaurant, apparently entirely unconcerned that their victim, whose head looked as though it had been used as a football, is now dead. Two detectives, a white sergeant and his bolshie black constable, set about investigating the murder to be met only by taunts, abuse and a conspiracy of silence.
The play was clearly inspired by the Damilola Taylor case. The victim Kwame was an African and a student making a real go of his life; and when a teenage girl goes to give evidence to the police, she proves a spectacularly unreliable witness.
The drama is part police procedural, part portrait of what it is like to be young and black on an inner-city estate in Britain. It has much in common with Kwame Kwei-Armahs Elminas Kitchen at the National, but Williams proves the stronger dramatist when it comes to both plotting and pace.
I was on the edge of my seat throughout, for the play never relaxes its grip, and two themes emerge particularly strongly. The first is the alarming nature of black youth culture in which you have got to be hard to be cool, and extreme violence is just an accepted rite of adolescent passage.
The second is the problems of policing such a world, particularly in the aftermath of the McPherson report that accused the Met of institutional racism. The white cop, Matt, is impeccable and sincerely liberal in his views. But the black copper, Joe, who grew up on the benighted estate, constantly challenges the new orthodoxy.
His contempt for the feckless black males is palpable. He evne calls them niggers. Give me back the old school of police. Give them boys something to really cry about. At least theyd know where they stand, he declares.
It all makes for brilliantly contentious drama, as Joe lays into Guardian-reading shit and is forced to confront his own standing, both among his own people and in the police force, where he feels he is being used as a black poster boy.
Ian Rickson gives this powerful and important drama the bruising confrontational production it deserves. Members of the audience flinch as characters are thrown against the metal grilles that separate actors from spectators on Ultzs bleak, spartan design, and the acting is superb.
Williams never draws his characters in black and white, if such a phrase is permissible in these circumstances. The best of them are flawed, even the worst reveal unexpetected glimpses of tenderness and vulnerability. Throughout, the cast catches the writers rare combination of subtlety and raw power, not to mention the wit and bite of his street dialogue.
Lennie James as Joe, fighting a war with himself as well as against crime; Marcel McCalla as the raw, bruised killer Emile; and Ony Uhiara as the sexy Shanice, torn between the demands of loyalty and human decency, give especially fine performances in this thrillingly fine play.
Charles Spencer, DAILY TELEGRAPH 19 June 2003
This is a brave and important play, acted with a savagely controlled passion; and Ian Ricksons production burns like a forest fire that will not be put out. SUNDAY TIMES
It is the most exciting new play in London; and the excitement stems not only from gripping subject-matter and incisive writing, but from the exhilarating courage which Williams shows as well. SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
‘The play is always riveting and is written with immense dazzle in ripe street vernacular. Williams secret weapon is humour: even the most serious exchanges are shot through with wickedly funny lines. Ian Ricksons fleet-footed production brings the play to blistering life on Ultzs admirable soulless set. THE FINANCIAL TIMES
‘Thanks to Rickson, his designer Ultz, and a terrific cast of young actors, the opening minutes of Fallout are among the most galvanising of any theatrical scene in the past five years. THE OBSERVER