This evening I went to see the last of the previews of a new production written by Arinze Kene at the Albany Theatre in Deptford. The Nigerian-born actor and playwright first gained widespread attention as Connor Stanley in Eastenders but now has several successful plays under his belt. The latest, God’s Property, will now open at London’s Soho Theatre on February 26th.
Set in Deptford in 1982, the play tells the story of Onochie, a teenage mixed-race boy who lives with his mother. Son of an Irish woman and a Nigerian man, the latter now deceased, he is a skinhead, having made the decision that he is white for his own sake as well as the safety of his family. Onochie arrives home one day to find his older brother, Chima, stood in their kitchen following a ten-year stretch in prison. Sparks fly between the estranged brothers, and as tensions escalate we learn that Chima was imprisoned for the murder of a white girl. With tensions still high in the surrounding community, Chima’s name as infamous as any other story’s villain, Onochie is faced with two choices; stand with the people he has worked so hard to appease, or defend a brother he barely knows anymore.
The play has a quick and frantic pace, and Kingsley Ben-Adir & Ash Hunter make convincing brothers as Chima and Onochie. Hunter plays the role of the frustrated younger sibling with precision, conveying Onochie’s restless uncertainty at all the right moments. Ben-Adir’s Chima is a grown man who has seen anger before him too many times and doesn’t know whether to laugh, cry or scream at the circular-narrative unfolding in front of his eyes. Between these two is a world of unreconciled anger, of which the audience will only learn the true depth when the play reaches its harrowing climax.
Ria Zmitrowicz and Bradley Gardner also star as Onochie’s (white) girlfriend Holly and Chima’s ex-best friend Liam. Zmitrowicz brings the second and third scenes to life with Holly’s amateur dramatics and misguided innocence, and Gardner’s performance as the murdered girl’s vengeful older brother shows how dangerous loyalty can be when used to the wrong ends. Placed within the claustrophobic confines of the family kitchen, what is at first a sparsely-decorated South East London home quickly becomes the cage in which the four characters will face their demons.
I personally really enjoyed the play, and thought that it confronted a lot of challenging issues, such as identity, race and redemption, with a considerate hand that never betrayed the underlying message. Moments such as Onochie’s racial bargaining with Holly – ‘But I’m more half-caste aren’t I? I’m nearly as pale as you are.’ – highlight the dogmatic complexity of these social distinctions, especially when he’s bargaining for the right to be on the ‘winning team’. The dialogue becomes intense at parts, but when you’re dealing with issues such as racism in the 1980s in a Deptford theatre, there’s an understanding that the issues at hand are going to be close to people’s hearts. The audience responded positively and the cast received a deserved and enthusiastic applause at the end.
God’s Property is directed by Michael Buffong, and is a co-production between the Albany, the Soho Theatre and Talawa Theatre Productions. The play runs at the Soho Theatre on Dean Street from Tuesday February 26th until Saturday March 23rd. Tickets range from £10 to £20 depending on when you go, and are available from the Soho Theatre Website, as well as more information about the play, cast and crew.