You’re in Arthur’s World whether you realise it or not — and that applies to both the audience and the main character.
In the loft of Shepherds Bush theatre, Arthur’s council bedsit is oblivious to the riots and death outside, and the audience inside sitting snugly along the wall.
Room for three in one-room play
Old white Arthur misses his black son Michael and when pining for his return, Keano bursts in from outside – who with his mask, machete and manners brings malevolent energy to Arthur’s mopey misery. Despite Arthur’s pleas to leave, it’s the return of a mutual connection that softens things — Michael is both Arthur’s son and wannabe gangsta Keano’s best friend.
Over the course of an hour the relationships develop and the puzzle of whether this is reality, hell, a game, or a combination, develops. As Britain falls apart outside Arthur’s window, with reports of death tolls rising as riots over a game take hold, lonely single father Arthur has shut himself out to all but thoughts of Michael and alcohol.
So when Michael returns his calm, soft spoken standard English clashes with Arthur’s desires and Keano’s ‘trying to be black’ attitude. For all the talk of video games, it’s a simple game of matching pairs that bonds them.
Paul Greenwood, fresh from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, holds the play together as Arthur. Being on stage continuously (or near-continuously) is a tough gig for any actor, but doing it when you’re surrounded by and just inches from your audience is another, commendable matter. The two younger actors, Michael (Enyi Okoronkwo) and Keano (Joseph Tremain), also shine in the confines of the stage despite their youth.
Down and out with the kids
I can’t pretend to know slang so I also watched the audience to see how they reacted. Arthur’s World has done well to get a range of age groups to watch, and the younger were going along with knowing smiles rather than cringe at Keano’s patois. I watched for any ‘mouth burst’ — the explosion of contempt and incredulity the young reserve for things they can’t believe are happening or mock — but none ever came. In fact by the end they were excitedly discussing the play .
Even my pet peeve — stories that start with an exposition-heavy news-cast — was averted when the broadcasts came to play a part in the play.
The makeup is done well and I found the characters convincing. Watching youth speak is something I avoid out of fear of showing I’m out of it, so full marks for writer Helena Thompson for not only trying but seeming to have got the thumbs up (or whatever term is in vogue amongst the unmatriculated) on doing so.
The theme of gaming develops throughout and while looking back some themes – from the treasure chest to the video game posters (including Bioshock – see my next entry) — gave some hint, I still left a bit uncertain as to what happened. This is no means a bad thing, but I think that even someone who liked his games needed a little help to think a bit more.
While there were clues throughout and the play had a good pace, I found the end a bit rushed, though I did enjoy suddenly getting the video game connections.
I went in part because I was intrigued to se how a tight stage could be used to tell a story and wasn’t disappointed.
The title and theme were consistent and overall it flowed well, the hour passed quickly. That for me is a good, if rough yardstick of whether I enjoyed it or not.
I, and others in the audience, could have been at home playing video games but I think we’re all glad we came.
Arthur’s World runs until 14 February at the Bush Theatre where you can buy tickets.