Naana Agyei-Ampadu, Zawe Ashton, Nicholas Beveney, Ben Bishop, Claire-Louise Cordwell, Huss Garbiya, Patrick Godfrey, Trystan Gravelle, Robert Gwilym, Matthew J Henry, Fraser James, Jonathan Kerrigan, Paul Lloyd, Amelia Lowdell, Kevork Malikyan, Jo Martin, Matthew Newtion, Chris Preddie, Niamh Quinn, Ashley Rolfe, Golda Rosheuvel, John Stahl, Beru Tessema, Stephen Hiscock, Malcolm Earle-Smith, Emmanuel Waldron
Premiering at the Globe last year, Che Walker’s The Frontline was the first play to be staged there ever to have a modern day setting.
Set in 2008, in the street outside Camden Town underground station, it explores and exposes a range of characters who grace the streets of that corner of London.
There are Muslims who smoke, drink and sell drugs; lap dancers; bouncers; underground workers; reformed prostitutes who have found Jesus: people from all countries and ethnic backgrounds.
The various characters interact amidst musical numbers, and virtually self-contained scenes in which characters argue whether (for example) black people built or ruined Britain.
The Frontline has its share of great moments, but ultimately falls between two stools, failing either to be sufficiently plot or character driven.
We witness a series of developments that see various people coming together, but whilst Act One ends with us feeling that we have identified the individuals or groups that will develop further, many of these then hardly register at all in the second half.
Similarly, many of the characters remain underdeveloped which is disappointing for a play that is all about exploring the variety of people we see in Camden. Late on an Afghan delivers wonderful soliloquies on democracy and Marmite(!), but for the rest of the play he seems as little integrated into the drama as, he feels, into British society as a whole.
There are many insightful moments such as when the hot dog vendor (John Stahl) explains that too often people want to ‘feel’ love, not realising that love is something you ‘do’. Similarly, when one youth is stabbed he is judged as being stupid for believing all he had to do was be with the woman he loved, not realising the obvious dangers that lay in wait for him.
But, given the play’s nature, it could have been stronger by being more relentless in pace from start to finish. Every so often, amidst the shenanigans, the actor Mordechai Thurrock (Trystan Gravelle) would stride onto the stage to make yet another call (from a phone booth he had to share with a drug addict) to the critic, Cassandra, to persuade her to see his one-man show on Walter Sickert. These were wonderful turns, but they would have been even funnier had they fallen amidst equally taut drama on either side.
Nevertheless, the play still managed to generate its own atmosphere as proved by the audience’s response: laughing boisterously at the jokes, cheering on the lovers, booing the villains, and clapping along to the closing ‘jig’. For this reason, though The Frontline may not be to everyone’s taste, for those inclined, or willing, to indulge in this feast of pandemonium, there is an enjoyable evening to be had.