Monday, May 19, 2008

Retail Fatigue

There was a queue snaking down the stairs. It wound from the entrance of the Royal Court's upstairs theatre, down past the bar (but not through the bar, sadly) and ended up somewhere near the foyer.

Eventually, after a fair bit of milling about, they let us in. Music was blaring as we made our way into the theatre and the ushers appeared to have taken on the role of stone-faced club doormen, making us wait then reluctantly waving us in. (I presume this was for scene-setting purposes, either that or the Royal Court needs to work on its staff's charm training).

Yet again the interior of the upstairs space has been completely transformed, this time to accurately resemble a discount sportswear store on Oxford Street. So we have lots of garish strip lighting and brightly coloured signage. And instead of sitting on proper seats, the audience are made to perch on little plastic white stools.

All this is in aid of the Court's production of Levi David Addai's Oxford Street, a brash, patchily amusing comedy set in, as you may have gathered, a discount sportswear store, a place where the young staff all dream of doing something better than earning six ponds something an hour dealing with disgruntled customers and humourless supervisors.

One, Kofi (affably played by Nathaniel Martello-White) – the moral centre of the play, a decent guy with a degree under his belt who is currently working as a security guard – has hopes of becoming a journalist; another, sales assistant Loraina, wants to be a singer; while another one is studying economics at uni. Alek, the Polish security guard, meanwhile just reads his Daily Mail – a nice touch that – and glares at them all, quietly despairing of their slack attitude to their jobs.

Now, I've done my time behind the till (all through university, at various shops and department stores, though being from Surrey I was selling silverware and jewellery rather than trainers) and Addai accurately captures that world and what it's like to be tied to a soul-sappingly tedious job when you know you are capable of more. But unfortunately his plot is thinner than a thin thing, a sub Do The Right Thing dilemma about some stolen stock. There's simply not enough there to hang a ninety minute play on. The dialogue compensates somewhat, a plausible blend of patois and slang and believable staff room banter, but the characters and relationships are in dire need of fleshing out. The play has a fair amount of surface charm with some flashes of interest underneath, but I suspect were the flashy, noisy manner of its staging stripped away, it would struggle to stand up on its own.

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