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The Lonely Londoners (Susan Elkin reviews)

The Lonely Londoners

Novel by Sam Sevlon, adapted by Roy Williams

Directed buy Ebenezer Bamgboye

Jermyn Street Theatre

Star rating 4

It’s 1956 and we’re in Bayswater where four West Indian men are trying to make the best of a new life which includes grey skies, cold, hostility, misunderstandings and disappointment. It’s a case of balancing the knowledge that they are British citizens against the way most Londoners regard them.  It calls for pragmatism which not all of them can manage. All the tensions, anxieties and fears are there. Getting work is difficult, as is finding accommodation, the white prostitutes in the park are tempting and what about the wives and girlfriends back home? Even when they’re “sent for” the adjustment required is too much for some.

All this is neatly but movingly packaged (with some rueful humour) in this fine, far reaching play for a cast of seven – on stage throughout and moving in and out of the action. Roy Williams’s script is punctuated by mime sequences  against Toby Gayle’s dramatic sound design and Elliot Griggs’s lighting, when there are things to be said which go beyond words. It’s powerful, heart-wrenching stuff.

Gamba Cole is splendid as Moses, the man in whose “flat” the action takes place as he offers advice and tries to be the voice of realism. When, eventually, we learn his backstory it’s devastating. Tobi Bakare plays the unemployed Lewis with great subtlety: he’s a very troubled, angry man and when his wife Agnes (Shannon Hayes – good) and mother (Carol Moses – outstanding observation) arrive it just complicates and worsens things. Romario Simpson is strong as the newly arrived Galahad full of cheery expectations which aren’t going to be fulfilled – or not for a long time, anyway. Gilbert Kyem Jnr as Big City is, literally as well as figuratively, a towering presence on stage although he’s working too hard at the Trinidadian accent which often obscures clarity. And Aimee Powell adds a lot of plaintive atmosphere with singing from the back, unaccountably, until we realise she’s Moses’s girlfriend and a voice from the past in every sense.

It’s quite a coup for Jermyn Street Theatre to stage the world premiere of a new Roy Williams play. It is, as ever, certainly a small theatre whose size belies its achievements.

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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