Jamaica Boy @ Theatre Royal Stratford East Review

Note: This show was a staged reading of a work in progress, after only a day of rehearsals.

After Rikki Beadle-Blair’s energetic introduction, the audience were thrust into the show, ‘Jamaica Boy’. Surrounding the cast on stage was an audience being brought into the process of writing a play. ‘Jamaica Boy’ is far from finished, but once it has been polished this play has the potential to become a real diamond of a piece.

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Two stories run parallel, one set in modern day London, the other, more substantial in 1960’s Jamaica. With actors doubling and thematic links between the two, it feels like watching the same side of a coin and the twist connection is not overplayed in the slightest. Much of the early part of the script could do with a bit of sharpening but the backbone of the play is settled and clear. Thanks to the free mixing of dialects and a lack of exposition it was confusing just where and when the different halves were set. Something as clunky as signs to clarify wouldn’t be right, (Stephen) Hoo clearly possesses enough subtlety as a writer to sneak the relevant information into the dialogue.

Stephen Hoo was the standout star of the night, writing the play and acting the lead. Yvonne Gidden, Natalia Hinds, Marcus Griffiths, John Omole and Daniel York all executed their parts professionally, especially the actors doubling up. There was an energy to the event that is rare, the feeling that with only a day’s rehearsal everything could go horribly wrong, and that would be fine. In the far-too-brief post show discussion, Hoo said he envisioned no doubling in the finished play. That might be a mistake, as the doubling added thematic links between the two stories, preventing them from being disjointed.

As the ending approached, the lines between the stories became less clear, as the mysteries were revealed. Themes of bigotry, peer pressure and alienation are brought to a head in the final, fast paced, five minutes. Those five minutes could be expanded substantially. Emotionally the journey felt satisfying but there was something missing in the plotting of it. The final entry of a missing dad who had hardly been spoken of in the last line of the play felt particularly off.

It was refreshing to see a play with an unusual (for a London stage) mixture of language and dialects. The word Jamaica conjures up a specific stereotype and image, which this play challenges. Team Angelica and Stratford East deserve much praise for bringing this story to the stage and if the play doesn’t find backing outside of those groups something is rotten in the Industry!

Review written by Ingimar Sverrisson.

Jamaica Boy was on as part of this Year’s Angelic Tales New Writing Festival at Theatre Royal Stratford East on Saturday 21st June. For more information on upcoming productions, visit here…

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