Updated: Mar 30
Review by Sam Waite
Starring the National Youth Theatre REP company, Gone Too Far! is now playing in its first production since becoming a set text for GCSE students. Bola Agbaje’s play sets out to explore identity and pride in one’s heritage in contemporary London. Raising questions around race, ethnic origin, and differences in upbringing, it’s easy to see why this story has been picked out as a tool for education.
Agbaje’s play follows Yemi and his elder brother, Ikudayasi. Having recently moved into their Peckham home after being raised in Nigeria, Ikudayasi is boisterous, outgoing, and at times naïve. Sent out to get milk by their mother, the two brothers are quickly side-tracked by a series of run-ins proving that each has something to learn from the other.
Jerome Scott (Yemi) and Dalumuzi Moyo (Ikudayisi) are well-matched as the bickering brothers, and more than up to the task of leading the production. Polar opposites but clearly carrying a deep affection for one another, Scott in particular is tasked with leaning into the nuances of this bond. His Yemi is quick to anger and keeps a swaggering posture clearly borne of his life on a rough estate – however, there are touches of genuine concern for his brother and a compassion that shines through at key moments.
Movo’s work as the older boy is more immediately likeable and warm, with Ikudayisi being visibly and audibly more relaxed and open-minded. This allows for real dramatic effect when fear takes hold in some of the more severe encounters, and when the desperation to be a helpful, mentor-like presence for his younger brother comes closer to the surface. The chemistry between the two is palpable, their drifting from laughing together to being in the heat of yet another argument both amusing and frustrating, and their clear desire to protect one another resulting in touching brotherly moments.
Roundly strong are a small group of neighbours in the estate – mouthy Armani and her best friend Paris, Armani’s boyfriend Razer and his friend Flamer. Keziah Campbell-Golding’s Armani has a great time tearing into a vindictive, mean-spirited character before letting her persona fall away in a moment of genuine terror. For his part, Richard Adetunji's Blazer strike a surprisingly paternal, affectionate quality, while his lackies Razer (Tobi King Bakare) and Flamer (Tyler Kinghorn) are given less to do but deliver stunning moments towards the play’s finale.
Bola Agbaje’s script demonstrates a clear knowledge and nuanced understanding of contemporary London and the division which still exists even within such a diverse city. Dialogue feels authentic to these teenage characters, and the differences in upbringing would come across from the way these characters speak and engage with one another without any exposition. Agbaje has the most success when exploring the complexities borne of the different backgrounds of African and Afro-Carribean youths – Armani’s cruelty stems from a bigotry towards Yemi’s Nigerian background, while insults thrown back at her centre on her being biracial and newly exploring her Jamaica heritage.
Likewise, Director Monique Touko shows an obvious understanding of these characters and the kind if events which we imagine shaped their current personalities. She has helped to create fully formed Peckham youths through careful choices around movement and body language – Yemi moves with an engineered, swaggering confidence while his brother is more relaxed and expressive in his movement; Armani is forever moving and gesturing to keep focus on her, while the boys in her group stay more still and sedate, not desiring that same attention.
Costumes pulled together by Madeline Boyd also assist massively with the creation of these characters. Every outfit feels authentic to the setting and gives a clear idea of each personality before anyone spoke a word of dialogue. Boyd also provides the production’s impressive set design – the implication of flat buildings and bungalows is created through a backdrop construction site scaffolding and skate-park ramps set at either side of the state. The scaffolding helps to create a vision of perpetually under-development areas of suburban London, while the bench centred on the stage is moved around to create the idea of movement through largely identical streets.
Sound design by Khalli Madovi and lighting by Adam King help to further immerse us into the story. Compositions by Madovi accompany wordless movement pieces between scenes, reminding us of the vibrancy and enormity of the community while the scenes follow a much smaller cast of characters. Choreography by Kloé Dean is used to great effect in these transitions, bringing moments of both levity and genuine upset to this image of estate life. Maisie Carter, as fight director, also proves invaluable in not only these transitions, but some of the heavier moments towards the show’s end.
While certain scenes could come across as too blunt in their themes and the points they aim to make, this is a stellar production of a play that’s easy to like and difficult to forget about. Featuring a sizeable ensemble but wisely keeping the focus on the primary cast of characters., this new production demonstrates why the original production earned an Olivier win, and why educators thought this text was a wise addition to classrooms.
Gone Too Far! plays at Theatre Royal Stratford East until April 1st.
For more information and to book tickets, visit https://www.stratfordeast.com/whats-on/all-shows/gone-too-far
Photos by Isha Shah