Produced by Our Days, Dem Times is the story of Samuel Adjei, a British-born troublemaker forced by his parents to attend a rigorous Ghanaian boarding school: this fish-out-of-water tale documents how one student reacts and adapts to a new world he is totally unfamiliar with. Fittingly then, Dem Times is one of the first projects released under the ‘Omnibus Theatre Online’ programme, organised and hosted by Clapham’s Omnibus Theatre in response to the coronavirus lockdown. The Omnibus will be attempting to adapt to the new, COVID-19 world by delivering online theatre and entertainment to audiences despite this tumultuous time. Much like Samuel, although their efforts to adapt may be rough around the edges, it’s an exciting promise of what’s to come.
Created and written by Jacob Roberts-Mensah and Rhys Reed-Johnson, Dem Times follows Samuel from Croydon to Accra, as he migrates from a world he understands to a world he doesn’t: confronted with new people, new culture, and a shocking new style of education (the school day begins at 5am and ends after 9pm), Samuel discovers that although this place may be “his heritage”, he truly knows very little about Ghana.
Intended to be the first instalment of a serialised teen odyssey that explores both the unique microcosm of a West-African boarding school and Ghana’s cultural identity, this initial episode unfortunately feels too much like a necessary evil. Weighed down by having to provide copious amounts of introductory exposition; establish the colourful cast of characters who inhabit the world and construct the thematic through-lines that will carry the series moving forward, this opening outing consequently feels stuffed to the brim. Moreover, in an attempt to meet all these criteria, as well as keep the length to a tight 35 minutes, the dialogue feels stilted and interactions rushed. Characters can barley get the bare minimum out before they have to move on to the next short scene.
However, within these first 35 minutes, there is enough promise to make this necessary evil one worth enduring. Roberts-Mensah and Reed-Johnson adeptly lay the groundwork for the series to flourish, introducing characters that crackle with wit and identity as well as raise important thematic questions. Can we feel connected to a country we never lived in? How much do we conflate African nations together into one ambiguous continent? How much do we really know about Ghanaian culture? Already, the pair begin to answer these questions, quoting celebrated Ghanaian poets and theologists, and uniting all elements under a deeply comedic tone. It’s an exciting thought to wonder where the characters may go, what bonds may be formed and lessons learnt; although, at this stage, nothing really has changed and there is a slither of hope that Samuel will eventually thrive in his new home.
Recorded at the London Podcast Festival 2019, this episode has the benefit of a live studio audience to bolster the performances; the actors clearly relish the give-and-take this allows, hamming up accents and embellishing comedic moments to a warm reception. Indeed, the widespread availability of this episode (YouTube, Spotify, and essentially any medium podcasts are on) allows for a wider audience to enjoy and engage with the exploits of Samuel and his peers. Although moments may be rough around the edges, Dem Times is a promising offering, both for future episodes of this series, and for what else Omnibus Theatre may put on, moving forward.
Dem Times is available on iTunes, Spotify, and all places podcasts are available. For more information and tickets visit https://www.omnibus-clapham.org/oto-dem-times/