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Theatre Review Little Baby Jesus, Orange Tree Theatre Richmond

Early work by Arinze Kene disappoints

ALTHOUGH the award-winning Misty was Arinze Kene’s fifth professionally staged play in a remarkable career for someone aged just 32, it felt like a breakthrough moment for him when it burst — quite literally — onto the stage of London’s Bush Theatre last spring.

Its raw power may have been the catalyst for Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu’s decision to direct Kene’s 2011 play Little Baby Jesus. Sadly, it’s a bad choice.

A pulsating nostalgia trip of a first half yanks the audience into the world of three North London teenagers, Kehinde (Anyebe Godwin), Joanne (Rachel Nwokoro) and Rugrat (Khai Shaw). It’s one in which adolescent angst, bravado and unfiltered piss-taking contrasts with intricate racial prejudices and the mental health issues of multiple family members.

Sparking unadulterated laughter, the cast excel in these early stages, bringing a full-on gusto to the spiralling teenage tales of playground scraps and kissing round the corner.
 
But after the interval, a distinct shift towards a darker tone is matched by a deterioration in pace and a progressively more mind-boggling plot which ties itself in so many knots you begin to think that even the cast may have lost track.

Kene does the audience no favours by skating over significant events such as the sister of Kehinde’s drowning, while giving ample time to every minute detail of a race between two lampposts. His desire to show how the teenage mind warps certain events is completely undercut by the startling incoherence of the narrative.

Lurching from death to family breakdown via break-ups and biblical references at breakneck speed, the play asks too much from the more than capable cast in which Khai Shaw shines with his effervescent energy.

Despite the best efforts of all concerned, if the truth be told this play would have been better left in the archive.

Runs until October 26, box office: orangetreetheatre.co.uk

 

 

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