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Kings review at New Diorama, London – ‘riveting and compassionate’

The cast of Smoke and Oakum's Kings at New Diorama, London The cast of Smoke and Oakum's Kings at New Diorama, London
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Precarity, pride and power underpin Oli Forsyth’s riveting Kings. It’s both a compassionate political indictment of the contemporary rise in homelessness and an astute drama about perennial human desires and behaviours that persist regardless of socio-economic status.

Erin Green’s set evokes a sight that’s both sadly familiar and fundamentally unknowable to an audience who’ve come from solid homes and offices. Under the curve of red brick railway arches, there’s a ramshackle shelter made of tarpaulin and wooden pallets while embers glow in a nearby bin. A rumpled sleeping bag may or may not be inhabited.

This is the domain of rough sleepers Ebi and Bess, a bickering odd couple who quite fondly take the piss out of each other’s struggles, whether domestic violence or alcoholism. Despite the comic back-and-forth, this doesn’t become comforting clowning. Gentle electrician Ebi gives vent to jolting racist epithets; Bess scorns the woman in a burqa with a “fat arse” who’s taken her “spot” on the street.

From the sleeping bag Hannah emerges (the excellent Emma James), a teenage runaway high on the synthetic drug Spice whose youth and big eyes enable her to make more money begging than the older pair who protect her.

Into this fragile community comes enigmatic Caz (Madeleine MacMahon), a sly trickster with dubious motives who unseats the matriarch Bess with talk of squats and certain home truths. MacMahon gives an extraordinary performance, her face sharpened like a blade. Though certain lines seem a little on-the-nose, this is a compelling work with a bold political heart.


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Superbly-acted drama about the plight of and power struggles within a London homeless community