Theatre Review - God's Property

It’s London, 1982, and the Brixton riots are still fresh in people’s minds. Chima (Kingsley Ben-Adir) returns to his mother’s house on a small council estate in Deptford. He’s been away so long his little brother, Onochie (Ash Hunter), now sixteen and dressed as a skinhead in DMs, upturned jeans and braces, doesn’t recognise him. Knives are drawn until Chima convinces Onochie of their shared history.

The brothers are mixed race; of Irish-Nigerian extraction. Their father is dead and their mother strangely absent. During the course of 90-minutes we learn of Chima’s years spent in prison. Onochie doesn’t want his brother’s past to affect his burgeoning relationship with his white girlfriend and neighbour Holly (Ria Zmitrowicz). Inevitably, though, they meet and Chima ends up cooking them a traditional Nigerian meal. Already angry with Onochie for dressing in a “pillock’s uniform” and denying his Nigerian roots, he becomes suspicious of Holly’s true intentions after she drops in a casually racist remark.

Although there are some minor inconsistencies in the plotting and some clumsy exposition in places, Arinze Kene’s drama packs such a punch that one can easily forgive a few flaws. Kene constantly plays with our expectations and raises interesting questions about race and identity without being heavy handed. There is plenty of humour, particularly in the scenes between Onochie and Holly, as well as a real political edge to his writing. At the heart of Kene’s absorbing work is a terrible injustice born out of racial inequality. It serves as a damning indictment of the racism that provoked the riots. Sadly, we realise, nothing much has changed in thirty years.

Ellen Cairns’ detailed kitchen set comes complete with a patterned lino that deliberately clashes with the flock wallpaper. At the side are broken slabs of concrete and corrugated iron reminding us of the poverty outside and the threat of violence.

Kene is clearly a talent to watch and is well served by a terrific cast. Michael Buffong skilfully negotiates the changes in mood of this provocative and entertaining play and allows the tension to brew until its inexorably brutal conclusion.

Soho Theatre running until 23 March 2013

Originally published by Theatreworld