Playwright Arinze Kene tackles the themes of race, identity, love and hate in his latest play, God’s Property, directed by Michael Buffong
Set in Deptford in 1982, God’s Property tells the story of two mixed race brothers, Chima (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and Onochie (Ash Hunter), who have been estranged for years.
Elder brother Chima has served the last decade in prison for the murder of a young white girl, leaving 16-year-old Onochie to deal with the stigma of having an older brother accused of murder. Eager to be accepted by his hostile white community, Onochie is quick to deny any relation to his convict brother or his Nigerian heritage, surrounding himself with skinhead friends and his white girlfriend, Holly (Ria Zmitrowicz). A frosty reunion takes place when Chima is suddenly released and tensions quickly heighten when the community discovers he is walking freely amongst them. Onochie is forced to decide whether to stand by the brother he has not seen for 10 years and barely knows, or the community he so desperately wants to be a part of.
An enjoyable offering from Arinze Kene, the storyline is original and confronts the serious issues of race and self-identity in a compelling and, at times, humorous manner. I could relate to Onochie’s struggle for acceptance by the predominantly white community he is surrounded by, his desire to feel belonging within their culture – to dress, speak, think, act and even eat as they do. The production delivers a poignant snapshot of attitudes towards race and cultural identity in 1980s UK. The need to reconcile one’s heritage with the prevalent culture is an issue that many minorities still struggle with and can therefore relate to – the play serves as a vehicle to commence dialogue about these matters in the present day.
All the cast give memorable performances; Ben-Adir and Hunter are outstanding as Chima and Onochie. The brotherly dynamics between the two are believable. Ben-Adir’s portrayal of an acutely conscious, yet laid-back older brother gives contrast to Hunter’s characterisation of a hot-headed and intelligent, yet naïve younger brother. The casting of Zmitrowicz as Holly is spot-on. Paired with Hunter, the couple offer convincing interaction and provide many light comedic moments, particularly the scene when Onochie tries to take their relationship to “the second level”.
God’s Property is a co-production between Talawa Theatre Company, Soho Theatre and Albany Theatre, and runs roughly 90 fly-by minutes with no intermission, the action and pace of the story not requiring one. It is currently playing at the Soho Theatre Upstairs, a small venue which seats 90. I enjoyed watching the play in such an intimate setting and felt like a fly on the wall, almost intruding in the lives of these characters. Decorated with tacky floral wallpaper, the kitchen is where all the drama unfolds in the play. Ellen Cairns’ set design of a 1980s council estate kitchen brings the production to life.
With a unique story and superb acting, God’s Property is a worthwhile and charming play that confronts many relevant social issues in a brilliant head-on fashion. For an enjoyable, thought-provoking evening, I highly recommend God’s Property.
God’s Property is showing at London’s Soho Theatre until 23 March, with a BSL performance on the 23rd. At the MAC Birmingham, performances run from 26 to 28 March, with a BSL performance on the 27th.
Photo Credits: Helen Maybanks / http://www.helenmaybanks.com/
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