In 2007, 27 teenagers were stabbed to death in London. Since then, this number has increased. Mad Blud at Theatre Royal Stratford East is the fourth version of this progressive piece, devised by Artistic Director Kerry Michael and writer/director Philip Osment from the firsthand accounts of an east London community’s reaction to several different victims. This is a perfect example of art imitating life, and doing it well.
Using verbatim (quoted word for word) accounts, actors listened to those affected by knife crime. The play opened with all five of the actors arranged on a traverse stage, counting to three and pressing “play” on their MP3 players connected to visible headphones. Sound designer Matthew Xia let the audience hear a snatch of what the actors were listening to, in order to explain it was a recording of families recounting their experiences.
The actors included all the characteristics of natural speech such as repetition, stuttering and colloquialisms, but it begged the question of how much work they had to do as the inflections and emphasis was given – though they did represent a range of different people by switching back and forth between characters. Cary Crankson stood out as particularly compelling, switching between very different characters convincingly. Miriam Nabarro’s powerful set commanded attention with a very real resonance, by writing names and ages of murdered teenagers on the walls.
It was an honest portrayal of reactions that the community felt had not been fairly represented by the media, particularly in the case of 18 year old Isschan Nicholls, the first teenager to be murdered in London last year. Such a delicate current affair must be handled respectfully, and Director Philip Osment made a valiant attempt at presenting as many opinions and views as possible, but inevitably did leave some out. One voice I felt was missing was that of the government officials such as the police and schools, who are generally seen as a hindrance rather than a help. During the post-show discussion, he explained that this was down to time constraints, and that he had included the voice of the gang member due to previous feedback from other productions.
Addressing issues that have been recurrent of late (rivalry, turf wars and revenge, and a lack of faith in the law, especially in relation to the recent third investigation into the case of Damilola Taylor, a ten-year old boy who was stabbed on his way home from a south London library, where police dismissed the crime as black-on-black gang culture and blamed the victim) struck a chord. The play was successful in dispelling common stereotypes by pointing out that knife crime is not exclusively an issue for the black community.
The play suggested how this issue might be tackled in the future, such as educating the gang members of the consequences of their actions and the repercussions, by taking Mad Blud to everyone it can, from schools to prisons to theatres. Using confrontational techniques ,making the audience as much a part of the play as the actors themselves, built a lovely illusion of intimacy that comes with storytelling.
Having such a relevant play encourages discussion which may eventually lead to concocting preventative measures and hopefully even a solution. I urge you to go and see this because, as the play quite rightly points out, as Londoners we have a certain social responsibility.
Mad Blud will be showing at Theatre Royal Stratford East until 28th May. For more information and to book tickets see the website here.