Holding the Centre

B2 Belgrade Theatre, Coventry


Holding the Centre is a hard-hitting drama with a lot of violence, swearing and a sex scene. The saddest part of the evening is the realisation that this is the lived experience of a huge number of young people in urban areas all around the country.

A world premiere, it is penned by Birmingham writer Joan Carty, an alumnus of the Belgrade’s Critical Mass programme for emerging writers from BAMER (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee) backgrounds and she draws on her extensive experience of working with socially excluded communities.

Micaiah AKA M1 (Jordan Leigh) is a bright, articulate and promising young black man with a privileged, private school background who has lost his way and become involved with guns and drugs.

The play opens in a windswept yard where he and his friend Marcus (Jordan Laidley) are punishing a rival gang member for the accidental murder of their friend. Retaliation drives them both but Micaiah is having huge doubts and in his mind he visits a wonderfully wise woman (Deborah Tracey) whose advice to him as the ‘tallest tree in the jungle’ is to work out if he needs to be shelter or shadow.

Deborah Tracey is simply a joy to watch. She also plays Jennifer, Micaiah’s aunt, who works in a centre that aims to eradicate the stereotyping that pushes black people in low-achieving, low-wage work.

Jennifer’s sister Claudette, Micaiah’s mother, is a high-achieving University professor and their mother Mabel (Kaye Brown) questions Jennifer’s choices and undermines the achievement of Jennifer’s daughter Jay (Mauricia Lewis) as she sets off to pursue her own academic career.

My rumbling thought throughout was the Shakespeare quote, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” as Micaiah orders the murder of an 11-year-old rival gang member after he presumes to take over his patch. This action precipitates the crisis of the play.

Micaiah’s young sister Selena (Adaya Henry) is taking her A levels and has to work out a route to school that will be safe. It turns out to be impossible and rival gang members take her, sadly, literally. Is redemption possible for Micaiah? Marcus is the next victim and his young love Desta (Elizabeth Adejemi) insists on retaliation. This is the crux; Micaiah must decide.

I would criticise the ‘in the round’ production; I was in the front row and only caught about 50 per cent of the dialogue. It is a shame since this is a first-class play and some fine young actors seem set up to fail.

Directed by the Belgrade's Leon Phillips and co-directed by Women Writes founder Reaya Sealey it runs to 07-09-19.

Jane Howard


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