Oxford Street @ Royal Court, London

cast list
Reece Beaumont
Preeya Kalidas
Daniel Kaluuya
Kristian Kiehling
Amelia Lowdell
Nathaniel Martello-White
Cyril Nri
Ashley Walters
Shane Zaza

directed by
Dawn Walton
Levi David Addai has a knack for creating plausible urban worlds. His first play, 93.2 FM was set in a pirate radio station, his latest in a discount sportswear store on Oxford Street.

The staff are a mixed but familiar bunch, especially if youve spent any time in the retail business. Alek, the Daily Mail reading Polish security guard who takes his responsibilities seriously; sales assistant Loraina, who has hopes to make it as a singer (“I didn’t choose to do performing arts, performing arts chose me”); Stephanie, the humourless supervisor who poignantly seems to have little in her life besides her job. Then theres the easy-going Kofi, a decent guy with a degree under his belt, who also works in security

When the slightly dodgy Darrell joins the team as a Christmas temp, Addai saddles Kofi with a Do The Right Thing dilemma. Should he turn a blind eye when Darrell starts pocketing the stock or should he stand up to his old schoolmate, and let him know what hes up to isnt right?

Its a slim thing to hang a ninety minute play on and it doesnt really provide enough drive, but Addai makes up for that somewhat with his dialogue, peppered as it is with slang and patois, with the characters constantly taking the piss and winding each other up. Unsurprisingly most of the people who work there have no love for their six pound something an hour jobs, this is only a stop gap to something better, be it singing for Loraina or journalism for Kofi.

Whats your plan? Kofi asks the blank-eyed fifteen year old whos trying to rip him off. What do you want and how do you plan to get it? Addais play quietly celebrates those who dont take the easy way out, those who stick at something even if it costs them. But there are plenty more stories in this world hes created left screaming to be fleshed out, the respectful relationship between Kofi and the middle-aged Ghanaian security guard Emmanuel a case in point. It would also have been nice to see more of how Alek, one of a new wave of immigrants, fitted into this world.

This is a lively, often entertaining, piece of work that benefits from an energetic staging by Dawn Walton and an inventive set by Soutra Gilmour that, once again, completely transforms the Royal Courts upstairs theatre space, capturing the glare of the Oxford Street setting with aggressive strip lighting and brightly coloured signage. Beneath this, the audience members perch on little white stools as the action takes place around them.

As Kofi, the moral centre of the play, Nathaniel Martello-White gives a very likeable performance. Ashley Walters invests the role of Darrell with the right mix of charm and menace and theres a nice ensemble rapport between the other cast members. Addai is spot on in his depiction of the banality of toiling away in retail: the pointlesss box shifting and irritating customers, the culture of distrust, with staff searched as they leave the building. But for all its surface slickness and its nicely observed touches, the play is simply too thin a thing, it doesnt dig nearly as deep as it could and provides little insight into the internal worlds of its characters.

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