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A CurtainUp London London Review
Seize the Day

I never hear them racialise paedophilia or serial killers. (Does voice.) "Hi, this is Despatches, and I want to look at why serial killers are exclusively white!"— Jeremy Charles on being asked to do a programme about rape and young black men.
Seize the Day
Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as Jeremy Charles
(Photo: Tristram Kenton)
In the most curious incident of life imitating art, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson was reported on November 3rd to have rescued a woman film maker from a gang of youths. November 2nd saw the opening of Kwame Kwei-Armah's play Seize the Day at the Tricycle where a prospective black mayor for London, Jeremy Charles (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) is chosen after seizing the limelight by standing up on the street to a knife wielding youth. Has Kwame's new play given Boris some ideas as to the way to the hearts of the public?

The joyous thing about Kwame's dramatic writing is the minutely observed detail, a delicious comedic warmth and the way he tempers serious political points with gentle amusement. In my book, it is a much more effective way of delivering a message than hitting the audience over the head with doctrine.

Jeremy Charles is a celebrity, black, well educated and very personable. After coming to fame as a contestant on a show like The Apprentice, he finds a career as a television presenter. It is during the filming of one of these programmes at London's newest luxury shopping centre that he acquires hero status with the public and comes to the notice of Howard Jones (Karl Collins), high profile black head of a government organisation and Jennifer Thomson (Jaye Griffiths) the political fixer of Campaign Black Vote!. Jeremy has an unsympathetic white wife, Alice (Amelia Lowdell) and a loving black girlfriend, Susan (Sharon Duncan-Brewster). Lavelle (Amil Ameen), the kid with the knife in the opening scene gets probation on condition that he visits Jeremy Charles so that Lavelle can be steered in the right direction. Meanwhile Jeremy is persuaded to stand in the London mayoral race.

Seize the Day blends the political and the personal in a convincing way so that we have black middle-class Jeremy with all his advantages contrasting his life with that of his brother who didn't have Jeremy's educational promise or advantages and who lives in a council flat in Peckham. Jeremy is trying to change things on two levels, politically as a candidate to improve the life chances for black kids and individually with Lavelle, a bright young black man who Jeremy hopes to save from crime. The playwright also highlights the pressure put on prominent black politicians by journalists ready to expose any flaws as well as exposing the bloody game of politics.

Kwame directs and Rosa Maggiora has designed interesting sets with video backdrops or actual film from mesmer. So in Howard Jones' office we see the blown up the photo of Jones greeting Barack Obama or a well-wishing note to Jennifer from MP and black activist Bernie Grant. In fact, the script, the set and filmed sequences are stuffed with pertinent, witty and clever references. We delight at Howard offering Jeremy the hand sanitiser gel, ostensibly because Jeremy has just caught a fly barehanded but only then giving him his hand for a hand shake. In order to show us how power hungry they are, Jennifer and the guy representing the Asian political interest group, Ravinder (Abhin Galeya) play a hard fought game of tennis on the Wii.

The performances are inspirational. Kobna's contained Jeremy Charles, sometimes out of his political depth, sometimes naive but always a sympathetic listener with a good heart, is a man who tries to do the right thing. This is a huge part for Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as he is almost never off stage and he carries it with sincerity and conviction. He is so believable I am ready to vote for him in the real mayoral elections! Kobna's scenes with Aml Ameen underline the promise of both actors as deliverers of a major dramatic punch. Again it's down to Kwame's writing, but I liked Lavelle's articulate, bright conversation and his ability to switch into street talk, "Innit!". Karl Collins and Jaye Griffiths play their political wheeler dealers with confident aplomb.

Yet again Kwame's political play makes you think and leaves space to smile. As a dramatist, his plays mirror the warmth of his personality and his love for humanity.

This is the second in the Tricycle's Not Black and White Season. For our review of the first, Category B, go here.

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Seize the Day
Written and directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah

Starring: Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Aml Ameen, Jaye Griffiths, Karl Collins
With: John Boyega, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Abhim Galeya, Amelia Lowdell, Cecilia Noble
Design: Rosa Maggiora
Lighting: James Farncombe
Sound: Tom Lishman
Video Design: Dick Straker and Ian Galloway for mesmer
Running time: Two hours with one interval
Box Office: 020 7328 1000
Booking to 17th December 2009
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 2nd November 2009 performance at the Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn High Road, London NW6 (Tube: Kilburn)

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