Thursday, May 26, 2016

'Knife Edge' at POND Dalston, 25th May 2016

First off, I want to state for the record that I'd have given this show a good review even if it didn't end with a bountiful Hawaiian dinner. But it did and goddamn it was good. I've always had a soft spot for events that come with food; things are much more memorable when you can associate things with a spritz of lemon on the tongue or the crunch of veg between your teeth. 

Conceived and produced by production company The Big House, Knife Edge tells the tale of 'The Girl With No Name' (Tezlym Senior Sakutu), an angry young 17 year old on the edge. She's spent her life bouncing between foster homes and hostels, ending up with a gargantuan chip on her shoulder and a deep rooted desire to "fuck shit up!". The only permanent thing in her life is her father Delroy (Dymond Allen), himself just out of a stretch in HMP Pentonville.

As the chorus (James Hogarth) repeatedly reminds us, our heroine is teetering on the blade of a knife. One rash decision and she'll start slowly spiralling life's plughole: first prison, then the madhouse, then the grave. But, off in the distance, distant and flickering, are rays of hope. Can a story like hers really have a happy ending?

You'd like to hope it can, particularly because the cast can find much to relate in her problems. The Big House, established by Maggie Norris, supports young people leaving care, with the cast selected on the basis of need after being referred by Leaving Care teams, the Probation service, Youth Offending Teams and Single Homeless Hostels. For most of this cast, Knife Edge is the first time they've ever acted.

Reviewing a charity run show is often a tricky prospect - you feel like a right arsehole criticising something designed to raise awareness and provide opportunities. Fortunate I don't have to worry about that here: Knife Edge is an absolutely fantastic play and a hugely enjoyable to watch. The tone is anarchic and unruly: characters hilariously bicker with the narrator about their names, break freezes to react to upcoming developments and engage in a kind of auto-critique about the unfairness of mining their lives and experiences to entertain an audience.

Tezlym Senior Sakutu and Dymond Allen (photo by Catherine Ashmore)
At the core of this is an astonishing performance from first-time performer Tezlym Senior Sakutu, who's got more charisma in her little finger than most actors have in their entire bodies. She fizzes with angry energy, yet subtly works intense, soulful vulnerability into every single scene (she also has enviable comic timing, especially when she emerges ominously clutching a spade...). With characters like this, the show walks its own knife edge - its success reliant on pitching them sympathetic enough for the audience to relate to while still having the 'fuck you' attitude that makes them believable. The show as a whole achieve this, but it's Sakutu that embodies it fullest. Mark my words, this girl is going places.

The rest of the cast are no slouches either. Dymond Allen's Delroy is a warmly paternal presence, responsible for the biggest laughs in the piece. He's an impressive physical performer with a dab hand at broad comedy - it's difficult to keep a smile off your face as he plays out a scene with a toilet seat hung around his neck. Also impressive is Taurean Steele as restaurant owner Ralph (pronounced Rafe) - responsible for tying the social drama and restaurant setting together with a lyrically performed explanation of balance in cookery - as well as playing a brilliant straight man to countless unhappy visitors.

After the drama is wrapped up the dinner begins. Heaping plates of pulled pork, grilled fish and barbecue chicken are served up and table space quickly shrinks under the burden of this yummy goodness. This all smells so mouth-watering that, even as a vegetarian, I had pangs of envy. Still, the veggie option was no slouch - rice, salad and grilled vegetables leaving me unable to take another bite. Ordinarily I'd be a bit iffy about a play being used as a promotional tool for a restaurant, but when the play and food are both this great how could I complain.

Really, Knife Edge is a complete no-brainer. For £20 you get a fantastic play and delicious dinner - each of which is easily worth the ticket price alone. It's a deal like few else in theatre right now, and I'd recommend snapping up a ticket fast before this run sells out. This was one of those nights out in London that make the whole reviewing thing worthwhile - a warm-hearted and excessively talented company brimming over with talent, an audience full of friendly, chatty people and food to die for. What's not to love?


Knife Edge is at POND, Dalston until 12th June. Tickets here.

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