BACK TO THE FAMILIARITY OF THE PLAYGROUND
Mogadishu, A Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester and Lyric Hammersmith Production, The Nuffield Theatre, 13 - 15 March
Drama teachers all over will be earmarking Mogadishu for the annual GCSE theatre trip. It has everything they could possibly wish for: youth culture, playground politics, swearing and comedy (to keep the youngsters entertained), plus symbolism, parallels, subtext and hard-hitting themes for that A* student to wax lyrical about in course work.
Starting on a dark caged stage, a playground brawl brakes out between Jason, an antagonistic ringleader, and Firat, your cliché nerd. As the uncomfortably realistic fight ensues, teacher Amanda comes to separate the pair but ends up on the receiving end of Jason’s anger and is pushed to the floor. This moment sets up the story as Jason desperately rallies his friends to tell his fabricated side of the story while in doing so throws Amanda’s life into turmoil.
Any story set in the modern day in as a familiar setting as a secondary school has no scope for a less than perfectly written script with 100% believable dialogue. Clearly Vivienne Franzmann is a master of this, no doubt thanks to her 12 years as a drama teacher.
The well-rounded characters that continued to unfold throughout were ably performed by the cast to set a powerfully realistic scene.
Ryan Calais Cameron was frighteningly venomous as Jason. His menacing stare and heaving breath successfully invoked fear in anyone who dared to cross him. The character’s relationship with his belittling father, however, did seem a bit pointless and fell a long way short of generating any sympathy for the lead character.
The play’s dark intensity was well-balanced by colourful playground banter led by Jason’s compatriots Jordan, Chuggs and Saif. Hammed Animashaun, Tendayi Jembere and Farshid Rokey, in the roles respectively, were faultless in their performances. A buoyant on-stage chemistry brought out three distinct and highly likeable characters who all used their ‘urban’ English for great comic effect. Animashaun, would have to be my pick of the bunch however just for his perfection of a cheery nonchalant teenager.
Faced with the challenge of portraying an archetypal (bland) teacher, Jackie Clune gave a solid believable portrayal of Amanda.
It all came partly unstuck however by Rosie Wyatt’s unnatural performance as Amanda’s emotionally distraught daughter Becky. As she struggled to put in a convincing performance, she unfortunately broke the play’s momentum and believability.
On the day of this particular performance Mogadishu was nominated for an Olivier award. I can certainly see how it would tick all the right ‘legitimate theatre’ boxes and the stage was clearly oozing with young talent but the story itself, while extremely watchable, didn’t quite have the depth to really warrant the prestigious recognition.