Mogadishu – Reviewed

Rachael Jones on a play for our times, but can it live up to its reputation…

Following stints at the Lyric Hammersmith and Manchester Royal Exchange, Vivienne Frantzmann’s debut play Mogadishu arrives at the Liverpool Playhouse. But is it worth a look?

Seeing a play about the ‘yoof of today’ is interesting when you’re at a show attended by several school parties. We think we got almost as much insight into the modern teenager from the gaggle of kids sat behind us as we did from the play itself as they ran around screaming ‘Oh My God’ at each other and snapping photos for Facebook posterity until the last moment before curtain-up.

That said, we’d happily lamp the seat-kicker sat behind us. And his Haribo-rustling pal (he’s not a big fan of the eggs).

But we digress. On with the review!

Winner of the 2008 Bruntwood Prize, former teacher Frantzmann’s play tells the tale of Jason (Ryan Calais Cameron), a young black student at a London inner-city comprehensive, who pushes over a teacher (Jackie Clune) and turns the tale around to avoid punishment – coercing his friends into joining in.

It’s dangerously oft-trodden ground; dead-end kids with nothing better to do than hang around on street corners and beat up the little guy. All this is nothing we can’t read every day on Mail Online -yet somehow, Mogadishu feels totally fresh.

Its thanks in large part to the dialogue. Frantzmann’s 12 years of playground experience in a similar school environment have given her a keen ear for playground lingo; we doubt there’s anywhere else you’d hear that Jaffa Cakes can ‘make your spunk taste like oranges.’ There are several lengthy scenes dedicated to this sort of banter; among the most authentic moments in the play, they’re filthy, witty and timed to perfection.

One of the play’s other great strengths lies with the characters. No character is presented as good or evil; everyone has shades of grey. Teacher Amanda, for example, is initially reluctant to report Jason for fear of ruining his chances and continues to fight his corner long after he’s dropped her in it. Which is totally admirable and all that, but there were times we just wanted to hop over the wire-cage stage setting and give her a good slap.

There are a couple of teensy script problems. One particularly big reveal about Jason’s life is left concealed for just a touch too long, diminishing the impact when we finally hear it. The same ‘Oh My God’ moment leads to a scene between Jason and Becky that borders – dare we say it – on the ridiculous. But these moments are few, and far outnumbered.

The actors are phenomenal throughout, with particular kudos going to the young cast. Ryan Calais Cameron strikes the perfect balance between menacing and damaged, while Tendayi Jembere’s Chuggs and Hammed Animashaun’s Jordon provide comic relief in spades. Rosie Wyatt, as Becky, does shout a lot but she does so with great aplomb so we’ll allow it.

A word to the wise; this is a really, really sad play. But it’s also a bloody good one, so pack the snotrags and get down to the Playhouse while you still can.

Rachael Jones

Until Saturday 4th February at the Liverpool Playhouse

Tickets: £10 – £19 Age: 14+ (Contains strong language)

Posted on 03/02/2012 by thedoublenegative