Continuing the National Youth Theatre REP Company’s season at Soho Theatre, Victoria’s Knickers is an ensemble piece based on the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign, and the legend of Edward Jones – a teenager who broke into Buckingham palace repeatedly between 1837-1840. Written by NYT alumnus Josh Azouz, the play is witty, hilarious and terrifically performed by the talented young cast.
Victoria (Alice Vilanculo) is about to be crowned queen and marry her cousin Albert (Oseloka Obi). But when a young man called Ed (Jamie Ankrah) breaks into the palace and she catches him sitting on her throne, his wit and boldness charms her. Victoria soon begins an affair with Ed, even making plans to move to Blackpool. When Ed is caught on the palace grounds he is imprisoned, and it’s up to Victoria to save her love.
Photo: Helen Murray
Ankrah’s performance is a bit rough around the edges but his energy is outstanding. As soon as he appears on stage the whole auditorium is rooting for him. He takes time to make cheeky glances at the audience, making him great to watch as this lovable character. Opposite him, in the title role, the fiery Vilanculo is full of sass, a stunning voice, and brilliant comic timing – she is an absolute joy to watch. As a group, the cast is completely in sync with one another and their rendition of Blackstreet’s No Diggity is a particular highlight. Led by Obi’s impressive vocals the whole team gets involved and has fun with it, prompting cheering and roars of laughter from the audience.
Azouz has taken the infamous story of The Boy Jones and filled in the blanks with outrageous and fantastic ideas. Using slang to really root the story in London, and with a mixture of original music and well-known hip-hop, Victoria’s Knickers is a boisterous piece performed by a lively cast.
Victoria’s Knickers is at Soho Theatre until 10th November.
The National Youth Theatre REP Company’s new season of work kicks off with a vital story exploring issues of sex and consent. Written by Evan Placey, Consensual centers around a teacher whose past involvement with a 15-year-old student resurfaces when he turns up with questions for her. Even though the direction feels awkward at times, the strong ensemble brings to life Placey’s play amicably, with some terrific stand out performances dotted throughout.
Diane (Marilyn Nnadebe) is in charge of her school’s Healthy Relationships curriculum, teaching her students about consent. But when Freddie (Fred Hughes-Stanton) turns up claiming she groomed him when he was fifteen, she is forced to look back at the night they spent together seven years ago. While Diane struggles to make sense of what happened, teacher Mary (Laurie Ogden) is getting closer to her student Georgia (Alice Vilanculo), which becomes extremely problematic when Georgia finds herself in a tough situation with her boyfriend.
Nnadebe’s performance as Diane is occasionally excessive, but she is a strong lead who brings to life the character with passion and good comic timing. Along with Hughes-Stanton’s childish yet vehement Freddie, the subject matter is tackled head-on and unashamedly. Their interactions can be hard to watch, in particular in the second half of the play when they get intimate, but this just adds to the undiscerning situation these characters have found themselves in.
The ensemble’s high energy in the classroom scenes is amusing, but they often can be overly animated which soon begins to feel garish and cringe-worthy, especially during scene changes where they sing and rap. While Pia Furtado’s direction appears clumsy in these scenes, the intimacy she creates in others is delightful and allows the performers to stand out. In particular, when Vilanculo’s self-assured yet vulnerable Georgia shares a scene with Ogden’s timid but attentive teacher Mary, it’s both hilarious and moving. The pair has a great connection on stage.
As the play makes clear, conversations about sex and consent are very relevant to young people and should be a vital part of the national curriculum. Even though some points about healthy relationships are missed because of the quick pace of the piece, the overall performance is effective and enjoyable. The cast works well together and it’s clear they’re having fun on stage, which is always a joy to experience.
Consensual is at Soho Theatre until 9th November.
Directed by Elayce Ismail, Theresa Ikoko’s new play Girls makes its London debut at Soho Theatre. This story of endurance and friendship follows three girls as they struggle to survive after being kidnapped. By mixing humour with the pain and conflict of desperation, Ikoko has created a striking play that is gripping from beginning to end.
Haleema (Anita-Joy Uwajeh), Tisana (Abiola Ogunbiyi) and Ruhab (Yvette Boakye) are taken from their families one day by a group of men who invade their village. Haleema is frustrated, yet remains strong, while Tisana, the youngest of the three, copes by constantly playing make-believe. Ruhab on the other hand becomes fond of one of the captors. As time goes on, life becomes increasingly dangerous for them, so Haleema comes up with a plan to escape. But will the other girls also risk their lives for freedom?
Ikoko’s writing is powerful and the subjects explored resonate with you well after the end of the play. The poetic language and pop culture references are weaved into the text effortlessly, making the characters endearing and easily relatable, even if the situation they are in is alien. There is never a dull moment as the performers’ energy elevates into an inevitable tragedy. Uwajeh is fantastic as Haleema, perfectly capturing the character’s quick wit and strength. She is very entertaining and instantly likeable. Equally, Ogunbiyi and Boakye give great performances as Tisana and Ruhab respectively, and the chemistry between the three performers is insanely charming. They genuinely feel like the best of friends. The emotion echoed by Ikoko’s writing is brought to life with a hint of comedy, adding light to the dark subject.
The text is particularly powerful with its sentiment. We are never aware of the setting of the play, just that it is in Africa, but the resemblance of this story to the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram is no accident. Girls uses the fictional characters to give these children names and faces, highlighting their struggles, and forcing us to acknowledge who they are: just girls who like to talk about boys, sex, hair and Beyoncé. The emotional ending is unfortunately too realistic which is the most upsetting part of this piece, and the subtlety of Ikoko’s writing makes it all the more heart-breaking. With her masterful writing, you’re guaranteed laughs as well as some though-provoking themes that will stay with you once you have left the auditorium.
Girls is at Soho Theatre until 29th October.