IN BRIEF Growing up three-hander lifted by ensemble performance
“I’m not crazy just hurt”. A line which we hear several times in Arinzé Kene’s 2011 play LITTLE BABY JESUS which is revived at the Orange Tree in Richmond until November 16.
Kene’s play follows three very different teenagers through the formative times in their lives when they when they “grew up”. Tracing that volatile period of not being a child anymore, but also not being an adult, Kene’s feisty trio are burdened with family issues including the toxic legacy of misogyny, and inherited ideas about what it is to be a man or a woman.
The first act is clotted with lots of playground and classroom banter which went on for rather too long for me, but was worth sitting through to get to the fleshing out of the three main characters. The second act got a lot more interesting as the stories acquired more diverse dimensions. However, in the telling it felt a little confusing, which may have had something to do with the performers having to cover so many subsidiary roles; at times the sheer volume of characters became hard to manage.
The terrific ensemble cast of Rachel Nwokoro, Anyebe Godwin and Khai Shaw worked with assurance under Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu’s direction in highly-detailed dialogues. For me, the standout was Nwokoro who brings a special energy, sass and vitality to her performance which made her the one to watch.
Kene’s writing effectively captures the melodramatic/ self-critical/ attention-seeking/ streetwise/ overabundance of energy/ nuclear hormones of teenagers, and the “what was said versus what was thought” pieces caught a feeling of anxiety really well. As a whole, I found it a very interesting play about that unique time in life, although for me it felt rather too fragmented; nevertheless I was very happy to have seen such a tight and committed ensemble performance.
LITTLE BABY JESUS plays the Orange Tree in Richmond until November 16. Tickets and details here