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Trouble in Butetown

Updated: Feb 25

Trouble in Butetown by Diana Nneka Atuona

Donmar Warehouse February 10th-March 25th

Review by Khai Shaw

(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay - Otis Redding

Apple Music - Spotify

It has to be said... Peter McKintosh's set design on this show is remarkable. The downstairs area is warm, inviting and full of culture and life, with Gwyneth's (played by the formidable Sarah Parish) late husband's boxing gloves and picture used as the centre piece amongst a piano, record player and tables that have seen a lifetime of use. It's beautifully juxtaposed by the bare upper area of the B&B, with an exposed staircase, doors and windows complemented well with the harshness of an old shipping pulley. There's real care and consideration taken to each aspect, all of which are accentuated by Oliver Fenwick's lush tones and states and Carole Hancock's incredible eye for detail on Wigs, Hair and Makeup.

Otis Redding's records feel just like Peter's sets: familiar, warm and inviting, and this couldn't be more embodied by his classic song Sittin On The Dock of the Bay. The instrumentation is sparse like Peter's upairs area, but Otis' luscious tones more than make up for it, complementing the whimsical feel of the piano and transporting you instantly to a place of comfort.

Neu Roses (Transgressor's Song) - Daniel Caesar

Apple Music - Spotify

The ensemble cast of Trouble in Butetown are tremendous. They move like a well oiled machine, with each cog working together in perfect harmony. The play rises and falls with them; all our hopes and fears rests squarely on their shoulders and their chemistry and flair deliver some absolutely gorgeous moment throughout. From Connie's (played beautifully by Rita Bernard- Shaw) desperate want to escape her current world, to Dullah (Zaqi Ismail) and Peggy's (Bethan Mary-James) herartwrenching love story, its all played out with stunning aplomb. Even Sam Adewunmi's Nate who is billed as the "lead" of the show, providing us with joy, pathos and a beautifully understated mystique, fits back into the fold of the ensemble seamlessly. Sprinkle a bit of Norman (Zephryn Taitte) and Patsy (Ifan Huw Dafydd) on top, giving us belly laughs and poignant truths and you have a real recipe for success. Even with the arrival of Detective Hughes (Gareth Kennerley) and Officer Reid (Nathan Nolan) being a disruptive force to our lovingly familial set up, it simply feels as if another instrument has been added to the orchestra that was meant to be there all along.

Daniel Caesars Neu Roses is a masterpiece in terms of vocal harmony. The opening sequence between Daniel, Cadaro Tribe and Nevon Sinclair is extraordinary with riffs and runs fitting seamlessly into the harmonic tone set as the base of the track. Even when the bass guitar comes in later on, providing the song with drive and character, it feels as if it was another element of the song that had always been there.

Who's Lovin You - Jackson 5

Apple Music - Spotify

The ensemble cast were truly magnificent, however... one performance shone above the rest, stealing the show with every moment she had. Matilda might be just down the road but there's a new, formidable child performer in town and she goes by the name of Rosie Ekenna. Her Georgina, is vivacious, audacious and hilarious , with her quick wit and comedic timing making her moments of loss and fear all the more palpable. It's a really accomplished performance that gives the show drive and colour. She is absolutely one to watch.

Her impressive performance instantly reminded me of a young Michael Jackson on Who's Loving You. The rest of the Jackson 5 are incredible, providing a gorgeous musical backdrop with their harmonies but this is absolutely Michaels song. He sings with a pain and a maturity beyond his years, with technique and finesse that would make a grown man jealous. It's an incredible song and the most accurate comparison I could think to offer to the fantastic Ekenna.

Still - Kenny Beats ft JPEGMAFIA

Apple Music - Spotify

Whilst the ensemble drive the narrative well and Diana Nneka Atuona has flashes of sheer brilliance in her writing the play feels stunted at times. The pace is measured well and Tinuke Craig's direction creates a lovely sense of cohesion throughout the play, however the stakes build and dissipate far too quickly, which left a little bit to be desired. Just as I began to feel that the characters I was growing to like were put in a bind it felt as if that same bind became undone within a few minutes. It was frustrating but didn't manage to take away from the tremendous work the cast did to keep the play moving

I've chosen Kenny Beats' Still here as I get a similar "will it won't it" feeling with this song. It feels like the JPEGMAFIA feature is a bombastic, lively addition to the song but it cuts out after 8 bars and never really gets going again, and although the instrumental has some gorgeous layers to it, it begins to feel formulaic after a minute and a half of the track, killing the momentum of the song for its remainder.


Honourable Mentions

3005 (Beach Picnic Version) - Childish Gambino

For The Culture - Sons Of Kemet ft D Double E

Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want - Slow Moving Millie


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