This is the third of Kwame Kwei-Armahs plays to be staged at the National, following Elminas Kitchen and Fix Up, each of them dealing with aspects of black British identity.
Statement of Regret is anchored by a superbly charismatic and poignant performance by Don Warrington as Kwaku McKenzie, the head of a think tank that deals with issues of race. It soon becomes clear that the once influential Kwaku is a man loosing his grip, he is still grieving the death of his father and has a drink problem that his employees skirt tactfully around.
The earlier half of the play is rather frustrating. It grapples with a number of complex issues: racial identity, the weight that past acts exert on the present, reparation for the descendents of slavery and the concept of post-traumatic slave syndrome. But, by dealing so overtly in ideas, theres little room for character development and, conversely, these huge subjects seem hemmed in by the demands of a conventional narrative. In fact, during much of this first half, I felt myself wishing that Kwei-Armah had tackled these issues in a more experimental fashion and hadnt saddled himself with the need to tell a story at the same time.
In the second act however, he achieves a better balance. We get a much better sense of the characters and their relationships with one another. Clifford Samuel, who was excellent in Chasing The Moment at the Arcola earlier in the year, is equally strong here as Adrian, Kwakus Oxford-educated illegitimate son. Javone Prince is also convincing, as Junior, Kwakus other son, who had the benefit of his fathers presence when growing up but, being less academically able, never got his approval.
Without bludgeoning the audience, Kwei-Armah manages to permeate the play with ideas of heritage and legacy and to that end, in addition to Kwakus relationship with his sons, we are also given a sense of his relationship with his own father. Though he has been dead some two years, Kwaku has never fully dealt with his loss and the man is still a real presence in his sons life. And, as Kwakus grip on things starts to slacken, he finds himself conversing with his dead father.
So, yes, this is very much a play about fathers and sons (though, sadly, not so much about mothers and sons the two female characters, Kwakus African wife, Lola, and Issimama, the think tanks only female employee, are rather underdeveloped in comparison to the male characters).
Kwei-Armah also manages to tackle the complex relationship between black people of African descent and those of Afro-Caribbean descent, a subject that was touched on in less depth in Roy Williamss recent Joe Guy.
Statement of Regret ends up being an intriguing but frustrating work. Its a play that throws up a lot of questions; a play that aims to and succeeds in sparking a debate about many divisive issues. But, while it leaves you with much to think about, as a theatrical experience it is rather less satisfying.