Kent Okwesa as the victim Tachia

Though This Be Madness

Coventry Belgrade B2


This is a play for a young audience, not really for grown-ups. It sets out to make a moral point, possibly several, but essentially one, which is that any youngster, even the notably innocent and decent, can be drawn, pressured, threatened, lured by vicious contemporaries into turning thug: to experiment with drugs, heroin, LSD, ingested or injected, and follow a downward path that will take them into a personal hell, to become themselves a persecutor even though they strive and struggle to avoid it; to be complicit to murder, and even – though this is a final relief – to redeem themselves by themselves, a knife thrust upon them, to turn on their tormentors and use it, redeemingly, themselves.

Writer Avaes Mohammad offers us a noisy show. The intermittent music score alternates deafening drumming (or even bass), somehow gratuitously, with two or three sections of enticing alternative music. In fact, if you remove the pounding, meant somewhat naively to imply or underscore the threat, the music and instrumentation above (borrowed presumably, or at least ‘sourced’ by Kingsley Pratt, is not disagreeable. Would there had been more like that. Still, this is the music that these youngsters purportedly want to listen to (Tachia, the victim, permanently has headphones on). But it isn’t.

What are the good things about this staging? The direction, by Yasmin Sidwa, is more than admirable. It’s studded with skilled, competent moves, slick changes of role by the four actors, and intelligent, varied uses of a compact set designed by Rachel Twyford. Perhaps two regrets: the stage is the same throughout, a graffited concrete wall, with some repetitive and scarcely meaningful shuntings (by the well-disciplined cast) of a series of plain grey boxed seats (the plainness doubtless emphasising the tedium of both outdoor and indoor scenes, deliberately never pleasing to the eye). And another feature which might have enhanced the play, scene by scene, is costume. There were few worthwhile changes. The unintended result was a kind of visual boredom.

The concept is not bad. Three ne’er do wells persecute the central figure, Tachia (Kent Okwesa). He’s black, and part of the point is that a racial element plays into the plot. His tormentors are presumably all white, although the gang and drugs culture they represent could easily be black too. They’re hoodies wearing black masks; these did not help audibility, but nor did they seriously affect it. The speaking, despite the endless ‘fucks’ and ‘fucking’s, was often commendable, but too often the rapidity of their gang culture easy speak meant some possibly important lines and ugly sentiments got missed. If a kind of subculture brogue is deployed, the enunciation has to be all the clearer. 


Yanexi Enriques who plays Cass and a mother

Indeed the acting throughout – at least of what text is offered - is pretty commendable. Yanexi Enriques, Zak Wadley and Jason Adam do exactly as Sidhwa, and choreographer Bella Blythe, require. They are loyal to the director, and loyal to the play’s conception. Wadley (Mickey) is arguably the clearest speaker among the rogues and bullies. And in ways, the most believable. Cash (Enriques) is given too little specifically to do.

The play veers between two main themes: first, the endless urging, tempting, forcing of the reluctant Tachia to join the vicious gang culture they exemplify; and secondly, the vain attempts by their English teacher (Adam, rather good) to lure them into serious study of literature. Amazingly, despite rather naïve initial efforts by him, as he learns, by getting to know his pupils and see through their bravado (the first evidence that the inattentive Tachia has a potentially darker side), he starts tentatively to instil some kind of interest in them. Puzzlement: here perhaps is something teenagers who think they know everything don’t know.

So – the same theme (alienation from society, hence also towards education) approached from two different but related angles. However, there is scarcely any layering, just alternation. No real probing. We want to grasp more about the origins of these now vile young characters; how their rejection of social norms has come about; whether they themselves have ben maltreated.  

tachia and  teacher

Tachia and Mr Jones, played by Jason Adam

Despite an essentially rap-style dactylic narration, which perhaps fills in some of these gaps, we don’t advance much beyond a glorification of violence. The rap rhythms and internal rhymes are really rather good, indeed polished. But they essentially amplify what we are seeing onstage anyway, where the actors – or roles - periodically veer into rap themselves. Again, very well done.

But none of this can conceal the fact that this is an essentially banal script, simplistic in the extreme, scarcely instructive, flat, obvious, giving us next to nothing. Which is why I suggest it could have some relevance to a younger audience, who might lap up its essential point, pounded home though with little evolution: “beware lest you too are lured down this route.” Mind you, those who are so inclined already are scarcely likely to respond to such admonition. But some might. This modest audience at B2 clearly found something to satisfy them, with this adroit cast and movement, so there is another possible view. I myself was bored to tears. To 22-10-21.

Roderic Dunnett


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