With a Little Bit of Luck opens and closes with Martyna Baker and Gabriel Benn’s vibey renditions of noughties UK garage. Pen and paper in hand, I squirm, others dance. I quickly give up on the pen and paper. Music, not words, provides the backbone, or better yet the heartbeat, to Sabrina Mahfouz’s lyrical tale of young hopes raised and razed. But the play doesn’t dwell on disaster, it calls it out as everyday and moves on. With a Little Bit of Luck perfectly captures the pure hope and possibility of youth that, for Mahfouz, is embodied in garage music. It’s optimism is infectious.
Seroca Davis plays Nadia, a 19-year-old who’s just been offered a university place. Tee, her boyfriend of 8 months (“basically a lifetime”), isn’t happy. Come September, she’ll leave him behind for posh boys and books. But for the summer, the summer of 2001, Nadia just needs an entrepreneurial scheme to make up the shortfall of her student loan. Enter Sam. A club promoter and rave organiser who sports a real Gucci bag emblazoned with Gs (not Es) and an Audi TT. As Sam says: you gotta work if you want a merc. The elemental motivations of money, power, love and revenge are shown to govern the lives of teenagers as well the high drama of the Gods and the Greeks.
Davis, who plays all three characters, expertly drops in and out of the different voices. She also adopts the role of the omniscient narrator, pointing out the unsaid thoughts of the characters and playfully reminding the audience that this is 2001 – E4 has just launched and a new coffee shop called “Starbucks” is gaining ground. Indeed, as an audience you are constantly reminded that you know more than the characters. For them, 9/11 is yet to pass and Tony Blair is still charismatic. The rising foreboding compounds this feeling. We know Nadia is heading for a fall. The tension builds and builds, but then, without you really noticing, it dissipates. The disappointment feels purposeful. As is often the case in life, the falls you anticipate are never as bad as the ones you don’t see coming.
The role of the music is twofold, it acts as a mood stabiliser – distracting from the dramatic disappointment of everyday life – whilst simultaneously providing access to grander, more dramatic emotions. As Nadia says, music is “like freedom you didn’t have to fight for, it’s like – love”. It would be wrong to say that Baker and Benn’s musical interludes interrupt Davis’s spoken word narrative; the music is the constant and the story is somewhat secondary. Dominic Kennedy’s sound design is spot on. The Roundhouse’s dancefloor performances of the play with the seating stripped out will be, I am sure, amazing. Prema Mehta’s lighting, which transforms the bare stage, also deserves due praise.
With a Little Bit of Luck is a eulogy to UK garage, to the possibility, hope and optimism of the summer of 2001 and, more generally, to the naivety of youth. Watching Nadia experience these emotions through music, we are granted the rare pleasure of watching hope unhindered by hindsight and untempered by fear. Watching post-2001, post-Labour landslide re-election, post-9/11, post-Iraq, post-so-many-things, the pleasure is bittersweet. But, like a timecapsule, the play preserves what the songs preserve and the immediacy of the live music prevents the production from being pure nostalgia.
With A Little Bit of Luck was on as part of The Last Word Festival. For more information, click here.