Community Service

Coventry Belgrade B2


A special clap for Stan's Cafe, the bold and exploratory Birmingham-based company which this year has clocked up a memorable 33 years - they began in 1991: a very impressive history.

In their latest venture, seen at Coventry Belgrade's homely B2 theatre, they performed a serious story with some delightful comic, or relaxed scenes. One might rather say vignettes, for a lot of scenes were quite short, although some might insist, pithy. A few longer ones had satisfying impact, and some of the movement ideas were remarkable in conception and pretty brilliantly performed. Two big pluses.

To whom the highest accolades? Well of course, the quality of the acting. The commitment of all, and their ability to make much of some variable direction (here and there very good) was patently obvious from start to finish. Of individuals, more below.

The action? Well, so-so. The first half, or some of it, was a bit static. A significant portion of the early events were performed give or take laterally, in a plain line frontstage, with little use of depth. Bits of the script, 'devised', with James Yarker, by the cast, and with three named directors, including Reisz Amos, the immensely congenial lead and troubled main figure, felt a bit dull. The second half came vividly alive, all credit to both management and the performers.

chair fight

Most notable latterly was an explosive sequence involving more or less a battle with chairs, brilliantly choreographed (Steady Steadman was Movement Director), indeed a small masterpiece in itself. You held your breath, so ingeniously concocted were the carefully plotted moves.

To whom the highest accolades? In fact, the Projection Designer Michael Ellis, who mounted an extensive, strikingly planned series of black and white images launched on to a rear screen. Time and again they married with the onstage action. Just one or two seemed not as relevant. They vividly reminded me of that great photographer Vanley Burke - was indeed one of those six or more high quality craftsmen from whose massive collection of stills of black life, in Burke's case shot especially in the West Midlands. These were of fabulous high quality.     

And the second accolade? To the furniture and Props coordinator. Watching her (Company Stage Manager Immy Wood? No indivual credit on the single sheet Programme) briskly devise new layouts or imagery was a miracle in itself. How does she manage to remember all those? And to handle them so deftly, never obtruding, silent, phenomenally accomplished, was a piece of theatre itself. Not quite mime, but akin. 

The third accolade goes to the Band. Here again, everything seemed to add to the events, neither dominant nor intrusive, but full of verve, with splendid keyboard (Jamael Jarrett) and two other quality musicians (Ashleigh Hepburn, C. J. Thompson). Sometimes the keyboard was left to its own devices, beautifully judged, often lulling, and doubly so in a passage where Jarrett switched to a straight piano sound. Even where corny (a few chordal bits) enhancing of the action.

So, what of their cast? Kainyah Caesar-Downer as Trevor's (the hero's) hobbling mother set the show off on a very good footing; and was equally notable as the far younger Janet. Amos himself cut such a noble figure even when put upon, one could not but praise him.

trio red dress

Solid, occasionally a bit stolid, but supplying the appealing central figure (Trevor Prince, named after the deeply involving original storyteller) and evincing decency and at times pathos, won our sympathy, captivation and gratitude. The lead needs a major actor, and Amos at certain times provided that. 

Another character, named Marica, played by Yasmin Dawes, interacted well, popping up to fill out particular scenes. Her varied parts were ably acted. The recurrent nuisance was a Police Inspector-cum-busybody, sometimes poaching Amos as his stooge, bossy, bent, impervious to complaint, and in some ways the key to the comic element. Dominic Thompson's speaking was in the top class, national standard (others' bits far better when front stage); he dominated masterfully, and his barking, zany, consistently infuriating trespassing on (gatecrashing) the others - there was a lot of that - made an always entertaining if not always needed diversion.

But the actor who most caught my attention was Tinashe Darikwa. Whether a cowed younger brother, a feisty ensemble member, or - above all - as a hilarious, purple-clad (Advent colour) Pastor, voice and movement alike wittily contrived, Darikwa revealed - dare one say? - not just an attractive, and compelling personality, but a modest masterpiece of shrewd acting, of stagecraft. Well directed perhaps, surely much of it stemming from his own clever invention.

How good a show? Well it had its drawbacks, occasional weaknesses, hints of dullness, but still a handsome piece of theatrecraft. One was not quite gripped, or ovewhelmed, but one was intermittently impressed and admiring of a, by and large, perfectly worthy effort.

Roderic Dunnett


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