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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
The People Next Door
by Lizzie Loveridge

NIGEL: Ah. Nah, nah, nah, nah, see. He ain't no Malcolm X Moslem see. He just a Paki Moslem. It's not the same thing. He ain't a cool Moslem see. He jus' a good little boy go to Mosque every Sunday.
MARCO: Fucking Hell, Nigel. Where have you been? It's the fucking Paki Moslems been at it.
NIGEL: At What?
MARCO: At fucking everything man. Bombing people, gassing people, driving fucking aeroplanes into the fucking Empire State Building!

The People Next Door
Fraser Ayres as Nigel and Paul Albertson as Phil
(Photo: John Munday )
The People Next Door is a political play which manages to be both realistic and optimistic! This delightfully witty and politically relevant farce by Henry Adam has been winged into London from its initial showing at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh this summer. Dealing with attitudes towards Britain's Muslim population since September 11th, it makes a serious plea for tolerance and moderation.

The young star, Fraser Ayres, a charming and innocent blend of the socially inept Frank Spencer from Some Mothers Do 'Ave Them and "wannabe gangsta" Ali G, carries the show with a t-shirt wringing, anxiety driven, agitated performance. Fraser Ayres is twenty something, mixed race, sensitive Nigel, who lives out his fantasy life in computer games and in pretence as hard man, spliff smoking brother, Salif. That is until Phil (Paul Albertson) an unscrupulous, local plain clothes policeman wants to enlist Nigel's services to spy on his half brother Karim and the local mosque, which Phil thinks might be a hot bed of terrorism. In the block of flats with paper thin walls Nigel lives in also live Mrs Mac (Colette O'Neil), an elderly Scottish widow who looks after "the stair" and who has long conversations with her dead husband, and fifteen year old Marco (Jimmy Akingbola), who is abused by his prostitute mother.

Henry Adam drives towards his political point with a comic delicacy that makes many more experienced playwrights look ham fisted. He not only gives us a realistic portrait of forced communal living at close quarters in an area of one of Britain's inner cities but also a picture of the people who form a cross section of that multi-racial community. Mrs Mac shows many of the concerns and prejudices of older people living alone but also has a rebellious spirit which makes her a firm ally against a bent policeman.

Nigel and Marco contrast, Marco as a child who has had to grow up too quickly in a family home which is more brothel than safe haven. Nigel has stayed childlike, his psychological problems preventing him from reaching maturity. Phil the policeman is a total manipulator, combining the elements of both "good cop and bad cop" as he alternately cajoles and harangues Nigel into co-operating with him. Of course with such an inept stalking horse as Nigel, disaster for Phil is inevitable with a karmic ending. What is a genuine surprise is how well things will turn out for the others who form their own support network, a family of sorts.

Director Roxana Silbert has elicited fine performances from all the cast but it is Fraser Ayres' play. With a physical interpretation of Nigel's awkwardness, expressive hand movements showing his inner turmoil, he endears like a fidgetty child, his slightly high pitched voice piping his inadequacy. Of course Henry Adam's candid dialogue given to Nigel has a clarity of truth and Fraser's precise timing completes the comic high notes. Miriam Buetha's realistic set shows Nigel's shabby living room and the staircase of some of the other flats, and conveys the lack of privacy of living in the blocks.

It would not surprise me to see The People Next Door transfer for a further London outing after its stay at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East and for this to be the launch of two fine careers, for the writer Henry Adam and actor Fraser Ayres.

The People Next Door
Written by Henry Adam
Directed by Roxana Silbert

With: Fraser Ayres, Jimmy Akingbola, Paul Albertson, Colette O'Neil
Designer: Miriam Buetha
Lighting Designer: Neil Austin
Sound: Matt MacKenzie
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with one interval.
Box Office: 020 8534 0310
Booking to 4th October 2003
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 10th September 2003 Performance at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, Gerry Raffles Square, London E15 (Tube/Rail Station: Stratford)
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