Poet and rapper Kate Tempest’s first excursion into playwriting follows three South Londoners as they take stock of their lives ten years after the death of a close friend. Over the course of a day and a night, Ted, Charlotte and Dan riff on their frustrations and disappointments, on wasted life and getting wasted, finally deciding to make a change and take charge of their destinies: “This is it,” they vow. The result is a fast, funny and lyrically exhilarating take on the mid-20s crisis, but which, overall, is light on characterization and therefore a less substantial piece than one would expect from a social commentator as astute as Tempest.
A screen at the back of the stage displays footage of their daily monotony as the characters dissect their individual predicaments. Feeling old before his time, Ted (Cary Crankson) laments his safe office job and the weekend trips to Ikea with his girlfriend; Charlotte (Lizzy Watts) despairs at her inability to inspire the disadvantaged kids she teaches; and musician Dan (Ashley George) craves any kind of success with various incarnations of underachieving bands, all the while wishing he could express his true feelings for Charlotte. All three offer canny observations on friendship, intimacy and trust when in conversation with Tony, the long-dead friend; when relating to each other, they can only achieve the same heights of honesty when off their faces on pills.
The action shifts between rap-style poetry and conventional drama with fluid assurance, ably supported by Kwake Bass’s throbbing soundtrack and Cai Dyfan’s elegantly concise set design, and from the moment they burst onto the stage, mics in hand, all three actors give big performances – they are particularly convincing ravers, gurning heroically as their faces ‘perform interpretive dance’. Whether delivering the acutely self-aware monologues or spinning effortlessly through the three-way layered conversations, they more than match the linguistic dexterity that the script demands. It is in these sections especially that the piece thrills the most, the text soaring on rhythms reminiscent of Tempest’s solo performances.
Ultimately, however, for all their self-chastisement and talk of change, the characters fail to move on, remaining mired in the ruts they bemoan at the play’s start. It is this lack of development that weakens the play; even seeing the characters’ static situation as a blatant anti-drug message, it remains dramatically unsatisfying. After the final scene, in which Dan and Charlotte reaffirm their intention to ‘lay off the sniff’ while in the act of taking a healthy snort, the three pick up their mics and address the audience directly, calling for us to follow our dreams and not waste our lives. It hits an oddly naive note, and almost feels like an afterthought, not at all in tune with Tempest’s immense capacity for insight.