Saturday, May 09, 2009

In spite of all the time I've spent in London, I have never once set foot in Shakespeare's Globe to watch a play. Until last night, and even then, it was to catch Che Walker's The Frontline (yes, not a Shakespearean play).

There's really not much I can say about The Frontline which hasn't already been said. Set in modern-day Camden, the play has a cast of 23 characters which takes us through a dozen or so stories. Often, the narrative swings between a dialogue between one set of characters to another, entirely different one between another set. It's like being in a crowded train station and overhearing snippets of various conversations, but not quite being able to hear any one particular discussion in its entirety. It's a little confusing, and with the relatively poor acoustics of the theatre, also rather hard to hear some of the actors as well. There are also some entertaining songs sprinkled throughout the play. As a result, the overall play reminded me rather strongly of Rent, except set in London, and with many more characters, ranging from Christians to young drug-dealers to strippers and hot dog sellers. It's incredibly entertaining, and riddled with plenty of smart, laugh-worthy moments.

The characters which stood out were Beth (a golden-voiced Golda Rosheuvel), the born-again Christian who's haunted by her junkie ex-lover, Mordechai Thurrock (Trystan Gravelle), a full-of-himself thespian who's constantly on stage leaving messages for an agent (imploring her to come see his "tsunami of talent", Violet (Jo Martin), a feisty lap-dancer, and a befuddled old man who's in Camden every night who mistakes every single female he sees for his long-lost daughter. The last character (played by Paul Copley), in particular, could have been a rather tired conceit by the third time we see him, but, instead, he manages to come across as sad, lost and pathetic, a figure to be pitied, as opposed to being derided.

Part-way through the first half, we are told by the Scottish hot dog seller, who also acts as the narrator and observer throughout the play, that Miruts, an Ethiopian drug dealer, will be killed before the end of the night. This being modern-day London, it's difficult to imagine a weekend when some young person isn't killed senselessly. And this is where it doesn't quite make sense. The murder, when it happens, comes and goes far too quickly. There's no real impact. And I'll admit that it was then I started to feel guilty for laughing during other parts of the show, because of the serious business of murder. But then again, I guess that's also part of London. Murders happen every day, and they don't leave any sort of mark on the city, so very unlike Singapore, where a murder will be in the papers for days and weeks on end.

Ultimately, The Frontline is an entertaining commentary on the rather sad state of affairs that is modern-day life. It takes all the characters we see, or rather choose not to see, in everyday London, and brings us all on an exciting, exhilarating ride through two nights in Camden.

Just one last note: to maintain the authenticity of the experience, I elected to purchase a £5 standing ticket, much like audiences had to make do with in the days of yore. Seats on benches cost £15, with cushions and seat-back rentals costing more. If you've got bad knees or a bad back, I'd advise you to go for the seating option. Standing for three hours or more is most definitely not advised for those with such conditions.

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