Thursday, 29 November 2007

Statement of Regret by Kwami Kwei-Armah- Cottesloe, National Theatre

Statement of Regret is the third part of Kwami Kwei-Armah's 'literary triptych' for the National Theatre about African-Caribbean experience. The first Elmina's Kitchen was a hit that transferred to the West End, the second Fix Up was well received if less enthusiastically and the same can be said for this third play which is provocative, interesting and let down by a terrible production at the National Theatre.

Grieving after the death of his father Kwaku Mackenzie returns to the office of his think tank the Institute of Black Policy Research. He is hitting the bottle and struggling to set the agenda, his efforts lead him to develop a policy of slavery reperations for West Indians exclusively, which opens up a race divide in his all black office that threatens to sink the firm. Add to this the conflict of employing his bastard son to work alongside his legitimate son, financial problems, an affair with a young work colleague and the ghostly presence of his father and you can see that this play has a lot of ideas fighting for supremecy.

The first problem is that the political setting and nature of the play leads to some fairly leaden action, characters shouting ideas and policy at each other, which can make us feel we are in a debating society rather than a theatre. The reason we notice this so much in this production is that the human stories underneath it aren't being played, or at least aren't being played enough. There is so much there bubbling beneath the surface of the text but some of the actors seem to have been left stranded and when the scenes begin to heat up we are just treated to some more shouting.

Don Warrington puts in a strong central performance as Kwaku, a man struggling with his heritage (brilliantly mocked when he is criticised for having adopted an African name to conceal his real name; Derek - a self deprecating jab from Kwei-Armah who I believe has done the same), his accent shifting as his life collapses around him. There is brilliant support from Javone Prince and Clifford Samuel as his two sons, as they battle for the love and admiration of their father. But at the end of the evening I left feeling that whilst the play had lots to talk about, the production had fallen rather flat.


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