A soul-ful tale that I really enjoyed

Review by Paul Nelson


TELEVISION moguls, if there are any in these days of such sad TV programming, constantly moan about the lack of originality in potential material, not, I suspect, that when they find it they will put their money where their mouth is.

If such an entrepreneur exists, he could do a lot worse than make a fat offer for the idea of Souls, the play by Evening Standard Award winning playwright Roy Williams now playing at Oval House.

The play, almost as it stands, is a pilot script for a television series. It starts with sadness and grief, the death of the mother of three sons.

From here it moves on to gentle comedy as the family, clearing up over the funeral, discover notes all over the house instructing the boys to tidy up, clear all her belongings and clothes, not drink too much, etc., all written on little notes posted at strategic points around the house.

Mystery enters the scenario when we find that the middle son, Stephen, had turned up for the funeral but remained at the back of the church and has now decided to return to the family home having 'been away'.

It moves on to drama, when we discover the eldest, Alex, is in serious financial trouble. Ever the businessman of the family, his garage has been successfully sued over an alleged botched repair job, and he needs money badly.

Comedy enters with the revelation that the youngest boy, Anthoney (sic), who is supposed to be studying at college and has been playing hooky, is in fact a whiz kid at video games.

Melodrama then takes the stage when Alex decides to ask Stephen to torch the garage for the insurance money, all of which naturally has to take place off stage in true Greek tradition, and is reported action.

Finally, love and joy end the play as the brothers unite within their family ties and we are presented with them as just naughty cubs, rolling around in their milieu.
In spite of the fact that the play is superbly written and constantly commanding audience attention it doesn't actually go anywhere, largely because there is nowhere for it to go.

Sure there are revelations. Mother died of a stroke after having been attacked in the street. Father had topped himself before this. Alex has separated from his wife and badly misses seeing the kids. Stephen has been not in prison, but in a mental institution, his own failed attempt at emulating his father being foiled. Finally, all of them collude in the arson plan.

I find it difficult to explain why the play therefore is unsatisfactory, after all the company, Theatre Centre, employs a dramaturge, Bonnie Greer. Why she didn't urge the author to develop the drama in a more satisfactory way is mysterious in itself.

Possibly the future for the idea is as I originally stated, that of a TV sit-com, God help us, but it really does present some truly intriguing and complicated characters who are much more than skin deep unlike most if not all sit-coms to day.

The play has an authentic suburban setting with an excellent lighting plot and soundtrack. These three add to the suspense where suspense is needed, though generally this turns out not to be plot but a red herring.

The three actors deport themselves very well given their material. Lincoln James (Alex) is a pillar of strength, even when he gets drunk and can be physically subdued. It is an excellent performance. Wole Sawyerr (Stephen) equally acquits himself particularly in his more moving scenes. He has a deep feeling for what he has lost, thrown away or missed, as well as being able, along with the others, to easily depict sibling affection mixed with rivalry.

Michael Conrad (Anthoney) is rapidly becoming the light juvenile lead of Oval House. The audience recognises him on his entrance, appreciates his audacity and puts up with his overindulgence in his comedy business. Whether the latter will be the making of him or his destruction remains to be seen. For the nonce, he provides genuine amusement, if in a somewhat blatant way.

By and large the play, due to its strong storytelling hold on the audience, makes a fascinating if short evening. The director has held it together commendably.
I enjoyed it.

Written by Roy Williams. Directed by Michael Buffong. Design Sophia Lovell Smith. Lighting Design Jane Mackintosh. Composer Delroy A. Murray. Soundscape Design Matthew Bugg. Presented by Theatre Centre at Oval House, Kennington Oval, SE11.
With Lincoln James (Alex), Wole Sawyerr (Stephen), Michael Conrad (Anthoney).
Oval House 020 7582 7680.