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Dolphins and Sharks review at Finborough Theatre, London – ‘explosive comedy-drama’

Shyko Amos and Rachel Handshaw in Dolphins and Sharks at Finborough Theatre, London. Photo: Alexander Yip Shyko Amos and Rachel Handshaw in Dolphins and Sharks at Finborough Theatre, London. Photo: Alexander Yip
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American playwright James Anthony Tyler’s Dolphins and Sharks takes place in a neighbourhood copy shop in Harlem, New York. The four employees – two Dominican Americans, one African American, and one of Nigerian descent – answer to the absent but omnipotent shop owner Mr Timmons.

There’s a soap-opera quality to Tyler’s writing. Ammar Duffus plays Yusuf, the new office assistant who has a degree in philosophy but still needs to pay the bills, while Shyko Amos’ Isabel is passed over for promotion because Mr Timmons’ “flat white ass ain’t hiring nobody fat and black”. At times Amos’ performance is explosive and full with fury, yet she also conveys sarcasm and humour with a subtle shift of her expression.

Rachel Handshaw plays the assertive Xiomara, a young Dominican woman who eventually turns on her colleagues when she is promoted to manager. But good as Handshaw is her character’s transformation into Timmons’ puppet never completely convinces.

Anna Driftmier’s set transforms the Finborough stage into a tired office with impressive attention to detail and a quantity of stationery to rival any branch of Ryman.

As the play heads towards its climax, Miquel Brown’s customer Amenze Amen, an Afrocentric activist who is researching dolphins on the shop’s computers for a biology class, asks each character “so, we’re just going to sit back and accept this?” before turning to the audience and, directly implicating them, asking the same thing.

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An explosive comedy-drama of office politics and racial tension