Youth listen to street act
To a background of wailing sirens, Trevor Charles struts on to stage, protesting his innocence, before slumping into a chair, legs apart, shoulders hunched.
It is a performance that every teenager in the audience will recognise.
Trevor, the lead character in Wrong Place, being performed throughout October at the Soho Theatre, in London, is the archetypal disaffected youth. Bristling with hard-man pretence, his language is unmistakably street, laden with "ain't", "innit" and "bang out of order". The edgy dialogue is matched with strong acting from Mark Theodore, as Trevor. His disregard for rules is pitted against his father's belief that adherence to the law will be its own reward. It is this impassable gulf between generations that forms the crux of the play, throwing up a series of useful case-studies for citizenship classes.
Several speeches, declaiming the merits or entrenched racism of the establishment, could have been written with a pointed "discuss" firmly in mind. Trevor's father, a railway attendant, works seven days a week to support his wife and son. But Trevor, having witnessed the thankless labour of his father, refuses to be part of the same system. Instead, he turns to petty crime, and then to underworld gangs. "The suit is responsibility, society and order," Trevor's father tells him, begging him to dress smartly for court. "A suit is just a mask," Trevor counters.
Replicating the attitudes and language of youth was one of the primary aims of playwright Mark Norfolk. "Black teenagers see theatre as middle class, because there's a lack of real representation of black people," he said.
"But theatre should be something they can take part in. I want them to believe what they're seeing."
But, while unmistakably the story of a British African-Caribbean family, complete with Jamaican patois and references to white rum, Wrong Place is also a generic tale of families, throwing up dilemmas that teenagers of any background will understand.
"Everyone has choices in life, even when times are tough," said Mr Norfolk.
"I want young people to see the play and think, 'would I do what Trevor did?'
"Life isn't about right or wrong, but about what you choose to do."
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