Strolling in London on a bright sunny afternoon down Piccadilly, near Green Park tube station, the sight of paintings hung on Victorian iron railings along the pavement beside the park makes an interesting spectacle. Artists and dealers ply their wares here throughout the summer as the fully laden, open-top, tourist buses pass by with passengers eager for souvenirs. For many it’s become an icon of London in the sunshine and provides the setting to A Stage Kindly’s and Knockhardy Productions’ new chamber musical drama, directed by Vik Sivalingam.
A cast of three with musical director Tom Turner on keys, bring life to Roberto Trippini’s book, which began as a comedy sketch in the late nineties before being expanded into a play and subsequently complimented with new songs by Lawrence Mark Wythe, which on the whole are pleasing despite having some very dodgy rhymes! A steady foundation of well-balanced music and narrative has been achieved here, the songs taking it forward in natural progression.
Eko (Amersackie Osakonor) a Nigerian artist of ‘Piccadilly and Green Park’ ekes out a living on the roadside by selling the churned-out canvasses he reluctantly paints for visitors. His heart is elsewhere and it’s of merit that the writer delves deep to give a good insight into his background, emotions, hopes and fears. Eko is a freedom fighter, yearning to return to his native country but unwilling to do so until the political climate is right. It’ll be sometime soon though, he hopes, and roll on the day. Neighbouring stallholder Dan is typically British, probably East London, swears a lot and sells commemorative china. Sean Keating takes the role sporting an England football shirt and is proudly patriotic, though not to excess. This is no BNP-style protest story, in fact the opening concentrates on the friendship that has developed between the pair. The boys joke about women and sex to while away the sun-filled hours. Lavinia (Kendra McMillan) is an American who happens to like art and chances upon Eko’s pictures, she offers him a commission but wants African-inspired paintings, not the tourist views of Big Ben or Buckingham Palace. This seems an unlikely scenario, but Eko is hoping to get more than just money for his troubles and doesn’t stop to consider her motives. Some interesting twists take the story in unexpected directions, providing plenty of scope for the songwriter and actors alike.
Each character is not quite what they seem. Having dual United States and UK citizenship is a clear advantage for McMillan as her character transpires. Having to change accents mid way through the act cannot be easy but she accomplishes this with flair. She also provides quality vocals both in solo and ensemble numbers. Particularly impressively during the title duet with Sean Keating toward the end, although her animated performance occasionally tended toward music hall during that number.
Interestingly, this piece does call culture’s perception of right and wrong into question. Without revealing too much, one is a law breaker yet the others give the aura of bullying oppressors, attempting to beat their prey into submission using the power that society has given them. The director illustrates this very well, using the cast to turn the tables as the story progresses with Lavinia becoming a convincing Tracy Barlow-esque figure.
An enjoyable and well-written offering in so far as it goes, but there is potential for more and sadly it ended just as it really got into full swing. Oh, and I must pop down to Piccadilly while the sun is still out.
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By Gareth Richardson @BargainTheatre
27th March - 15th April 2012
Etcetera Theatre, London, NW1.