REVIEW: The Frontline Shakespeare s Globe Bankside, Southwark

PUBLISHED: 13:49 30 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:15 07 September 2010

One star rating Actor-turned-playwright Che Walker s Frontline refers not to Iraq or Afghanistan - but to Camden tube station and the human detritus to be found there. Designer Paul Wills has a

REVIEW: The Frontline

Shakespeare's Globe

Bankside, Southwark

One star rating

Actor-turned-playwright Che Walker's Frontline refers not to Iraq or Afghanistan - but to Camden tube station and the human detritus to be found there.

Designer Paul Wills has accordingly given the Globe stage a louche makeover. There's a tacky neon sign for the Fantasy Bar and, worryingly, a piano and drum kit.

On come a scowling middle-aged threesome doing their best to look counter cultural and they're soon banging out a ska/rap soundtrack.

Only when a swaggering couple of rappers appear, do I realise just how bad the show will be.

The white man has apparently achieved honorary "brutha" status, which means he gets to pretend to be Jay-Z, while his black colleague grabs his baggily-attired crotch at every available opportunity.

"Cheer the fuck up," they admonish us, "it's only raining!"

Gradually, the stage fills with a cast of international Camden wildlife, including a fast food worker, drag queens, addicts, tarts and the obligatory "gangstas".

The first number - a Kids From Fame on crack rap, featuring the line, "We're desperate: we're invincible" - has me eyeing the exit.

Like a Bartholomew Fair for the Big Brother generation, the piece seeks to portray the rich pageant of contemporary London life.

This entails a guttersnipe sympathy of overlapping, concurrent narratives which compete to be heard.

Some grab the attention more than others. There's Golda Rosheuvel's Beth, who has kicked junk and picked up the bible, and an irritating Ethiopian drug dealer with delusions of erudition - "King Solomon's meant to know stuff" - on offer.

It's also hard to ignore Paul Copley's old man, who fancies every young girl to be his daughter, and a narcissistic actor who bombards his agent with phone calls regarding his play about former Camden resident Walter Sickert.

The backbone of the work is made up of two love stories and an abortive drug deal. But despite some fine turns - especially Jo Martin's lap dancing mum and Naana Agyei- Ampadu as her daughter, The Frontline resembles an educational drama company on a school visit.

Walker has expressed a desire to use "heightened" musical language to depict contemporary London.

However, these vignettes are not well written enough to achieve the required symphonic effect - despite Matthew Dunster's directorial efforts.

Matters aren't helped by the author's attempt to cram too many ideas into one play.

There's an Iain Sinclair-ish evocation of the ghost of London past, as we're told of a woolly mammoth which was found in King's Cross in 1690, an Orwellian speech about language and even a riff on Marmite.

What really grates, however, is the sense that Walker is in love with his gilded London low life. His characters may be in the gutter, but their gaze is firmly fixed on the sewer.

Until August 17.

David Gavan

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