Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Making the difficult look easy

A World Apart

Innov8 Theatre

Crescent Theatre, Birmingham


THE programme modestly explains that Innov8 Theatre is a grasssroots, local initiative based in Hodge Hill. It does not say the half of it.

This is a group of young people that has suddenly burst, be it never so briefly, into Birmingham city centre, with a difficult play about a difficult subject, and with players of the requisite ethnic mix to tackle it.

And they do tackle it. They tackle it superbly. Not a single fluffed line. No hesitation.  All right, the intermittent lack of projection prompts you to turn up your hearing aid, but there is never a suggestion that you are going to fail to understand the importance of what is going on in front of you, nor indeed the belief with which it is being transmitted.

Sally Timms (left) and Cyrene Blake as Leanne and Charlene living a world apart

The subject is racial tension and the group consists of black youngsters, white youngsters and Asian youngsters – precisely the people who are liable to recognise the facts of mixed-race living, such as the friends who fall out, the racist graffiti on the door, the abusive telephone calls and the 17-year-old who is beaten up at the heart of the story.

The writer is Melanie Clarke, who is also its director. She must be a proud woman, in the aftermath of its untrumpeted arrival and its startling success. These are ordinary youngsters, sometimes prone to speak more quickly than is ideal for stage purposes but undeniably enmeshed in the action and the despair, the fears, the viciousness and the hopes that arise from it.

Melanie the writer has given them a story with which they can identify. Melanie the director has welded them into a confident team whose talent shines forth as it leaps from the page. The dreadful shame is that this is grassroots theatre with a limited budget that dictates a one-performance production for an effort that deserves so much more. If you were not in the crowded studio when it happened, you've missed it.


Notably, for instance, you have missed Najma Jokhia, as the fiery teenage Neelam; not inclined to suffer wrongs quietly but also a joy in occasionally prompting the laughter that comes as a brief relief among the mounting tensions. You have also missed Zara Rahim, as the grown-up Neelam who confronts her audience with a series of splendidly sustained soliloquies.

You have missed so much.

Sally Timms, pretty, perky, wins us over as Leanne until we discover the broad-brush racist streak which she plays so disconcertingly with remarkable verbal violence; Megan Eden is Chloe, hardly able to believe the hitherto-unsuspected side of her friend.

There are lines that rivet the attention: “Culture, religion, identity – you have to take us or leave us, because they're non-negotiable.” “I came here for a British education. Now it's a dirty word.”

There's the pained surprise that is actually severe shock: “I thought I knew you.” There's no surprise at all: “At 14, I knew my kind weren't welcome.”

This is grassroots theatre – any sort of theatre – at its best, shining forth as a team of 11 onstage, welded into a unit of youthful strength and urgency. I hope its creator will be able to persuade a professional company to look at it. It deserves a future. 30-10-10

John Slim 

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