What comes across at surface level as a lack of organisation during the unusual set up of Knife Edge is deceptive. It’s all part of the experience to not know exactly where to stand (but stand the audience must, with no chairs provided), and the production team are on hand at all times, helpfully guiding us through the restaurant space at every scene change. It was all pleasantly done, and nobody in the audience (or should that be ‘crowd’), to the best of my knowledge, felt rushed or pressured at any point.
Slightly sneakily though, I thought, it was only introduced to me as a ‘promenade performance’ after I specifically asked what the set-up was. Informed that there would be a post-show party in the form of a ‘feast’, I was pleased to discover that this was the case for every performance, and not just one of those press night specials. (And if anyone was wondering, there are tables and chairs hurriedly put in place in the interval between performance and feast.)
If Knife Edge lacks anything, it’s subtlety, with its inner-city characters unafraid to voice their opinions. When one character is screaming the house down at a restaurant (the scene thus being in a play in a restaurant in a restaurant), there’s no calming her even after she’s told all the other diners (that is, the audience) are ‘staring’. While the actors are sufficiently fitted with microphones, I wasn’t sure they were strictly necessary, save for one slightly reticent character that only has some dialogue in the dying moments of the play. Such larger-than- life people are both indicative of the challenges faced by those who are brought up ‘in care’.
The play does not attempt, as far as I could deduce, to explore why it is that such a disproportionate number of people who were raised in the care system end up with criminal records. From a dramatic perspective, this can only be a good thing: such an exploration, I suspect, would result in an overly long and complicated play. The focus here is on ‘The Girl With No Name’ (Tezlym Senior Sakutu); and her life story. She has a name, it turns out, and the revealing of it acts as a metaphor for self-discovery (or does it?); but I won’t spoil things further.
The collaborative process that writer David Watson and director Maggie Norris have gone through with the company is evident in some of the disagreements between characters. About four-fifths of the cast, the lead included, have never acted in a theatrical production before. I wouldn’t have known any better, and would have thought these were largely drama students on their way to stardom. Or even drama graduates.
A couple of scenes dragged because of their repetitive nature. For the most part, though, this gripping play, a contemporary sort-of Greek tragedy, is very absorbing – and, despite some confrontations and hard-hitting themes sometimes occurring just inches away from wherever anyone happened to be stood, was always warm and inviting. When Aaron (Adam Deacon) was at his most threatening, it was still an enjoyable experience, and it was palpable that both actor and character wanted the audience to remain and witness just what was about to happen.
With a restaurant setting, both literally and within the play, there’s a repeated drive towards healthy eating – chef Ralph (a stand-out performance from Taurean Steele), here pronounced to rhyme with ‘safe’ – woe betide anyone, audience members at the feast afterwards included, who dares to pronounce it like a dog’s bark – seems to have a particular aversion to jerk chicken; elsewhere, a takeaway chicken and chips meal is bluntly described as “sh*t”.
“People are hungry,” a character almost shouts towards the end of the play, with one of those knowing looks to the audience. The feast is such an integral part of the show (it’s included in the ticket price, and it’s not possible to buy a cheaper ticket that does not include the meal), and there are some good insights about the creative process from the cast and the production team to be enjoyed.
It was good to be reminded in Knife Edge quite how difficult it can be for people not brought up in nuclear families, put out to pasture before having been equipped with the ‘life skills’ (to use a Big House Theatre Company term) to cope with London living. It may be argued that there is not that much acting required from people who themselves come from such disadvantaged backgrounds as portrayed in this play, but that is hardly the point. The play comes from a registered charity working to improve the lives of disenfranchised youths, but the company has not compromised on putting on a top quality production.
Pulling no punches, Knife Edge is a bold and striking show, with some touching humour. Beyond the strong language and teeth-kissing, there’s a staggering reminder that one’s background or station in life is not an excuse for not living life to the full. And the food, I must admit, was healthy and delicious – the experience as a whole left both my mind and my stomach well fed.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Cast list (in alphabetical order)
LETITIA Jasmine Adolphus-Edie
DELROY Dymond Allen
YOUNGER SELF / MIA Naomi Banjoko
AARON Adam Deacon
TANIA Dilan Fox
KHALID Moses Gomez Santos
CHORUS James Hogarth
TRISH Tiff Lambert
KIMYA Kismet Meyon
GIRL WITH NO NAME Tezlym Senior Sakutu
RALPH Taurean Steele
STEF Fran Tokatlian
May 18th – June 12th 2016, Pond Restaurant
Sometimes life cuts deep. Sometimes life needs a slap.
Knife Edge, written by David Watson (Housed, The Old Vic) and directed by The Big House
artistic director, Maggie Norris, is a play about fear, food and family that begins with a murder and ends with a feast. A girl with no name, hungry for life, fights to tell her own story. Immerse yourself in a darkly comic world, and join her on a journey of discovery, culminating in a culinary coming-together of cast and audience.
Playwright David Watson (three time children’s BAFTA winner)
Producer The Big House Theatre Company
Director Maggie Norris
Designer Ruth Sutcliffe (Home, NT; Taming of the Shrew, RSC)
Sound Designer Ed Clarke (Frankenstein, NT)
Lighting Designer Amy Mae Smith (2015 Winner of the Knight of Illumination Award for Best Musical, Sweeney Todd)
2016 – June 12th 2016
Tuesday – Sunday, 7:30pm
Venue Pond Restaurant, 3 Gillett Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JH
Ticket Price £25 (performance and dinner)
Box Office Design My Night (designmynight.com)
Links Website (thebighouse.uk.com)