By Tola Ositelu
Champion of African and Caribbean playwrights, Talawa Theatre Company , run the ‘…Firsts’ festival at their Central London-based studios each summer. The season provides a free or low-cost platform for talented newcomers to have their budding masterpieces read before a supportive public. Pieces such as ‘BlackTop Sky’ by American auteur and rising star Christina Anderson. Set in the projects of downtown Chicago, it’s a social commentary vehicle based around the lives of three young adults whose destinies collide through circumstances equally bizarre and mundane.
Facetious 18-year old high-school graduate Ida (Alisha Bailey) loses her house-keys whilst rubber-necking an altercation between the police and a street hawker. The keys are found and are in the ‘safekeeping’ of an enigmatic and ever-so-slightly eccentric young homeless man, Klas (Dwane Walcott) or ‘Pigeon’ as he is known to the insensitive tenement residents. Ida tries unsuccessfully to persuade her reluctant boyfriend Win (Solomon Israel) to get the keys back, before taking matters into her own hands. A mission to reclaim lost property soon takes quite a detour. Ida is fascinated by the mysterious Klas and the two develop a peculiar, emotionally-fraught rapport, much to the consternation of Win. They bond over mutual frustration about their lot in life and dream of a future without limits. But Klas is tormented by many demons from his past, one s he can’t readily reveal to his new friend.
Caught in the middle of a strange love triangle, Ida quickly realises she is out of her depth. Talawa Firsts presents yet another powerful, brilliantly accomplished piece that cries out for the opportunity to go to full production. In Anderson’s capable hands, what could have been a derivative romantic tale involving a female protagonist with a messiah-complex attempting to ‘save’ a tortured soul, is instead a compassionate as well as absorbing take on a familiar theme: the struggle to rise above one’s unpromising circumstances.
All three actors do a stellar job. It’s all the more impressive considering that they only had a day and a half to get acquainted with the script (they have a decent go at the Chicago twang too.) With no props or set to hide behind, it’s the force of the story and the actors’ commitment that propel ‘BlackTop Sky’. Bailey and Walcott in particular approach Anderson’s work with such hunger that it would be unjust if they weren’t first choice if and when the play gets a proper run. Theatre lovers anywhere in the vicinity of London should make ‘Talawa Firsts’ an essential part of their cultural calendar.
Written by Christina Anderson
Directed by Ed Stambollouian
Cast: Alisha Bailey – Ida
Solomon Israel – Win
Dwane Walcott – Klas Talawa
Firsts Festival : 9-27 June 2014 www.talawa.com