Writer: Danusia Samal
Director: Chris Sonnex
In line with its title, Bangers begins with one the best bangers of the 21st century, Pow! by Grime artist Lethal Bizzle (the original version, of course). With the performers appearing out of nowhere, it’s an explosive start that promises a high-octane show. However, Bangers packs too many stories into its 70 minutes for it to be really successful.
Written in rhyme like lyrics by Danusia Samal, Bangers focuses on a single night and the morning after in the lives of two teenagers, who remain strangers to each other for most of the show. Aria (played by Samal) has just been dumped by her boyfriend for being too emotionally distant while rapper Clef is on his way to play a gig with his best friend Tone. Clef has told his mother that he is going to the theatre with school, a lie that he’s uncomfortable in telling.
While Aria and Clef’s stories are given equal weight, it’s Aria’s that seems more urgent as her break up forces her to confront her past. Her story, with a secret to be revealed, has more substance than Clef’s as his story rambles and none of the problems he faces are dealt with in any depth. At least two of his narrative strands fade into nothing and are never picked up again.
But if the content has a few shortcomings, the performances are winning. As well as playing Aria, Samal also acts as Tone, Clef’s girlfriend Nat, and also his mother. Multitasking in the same way is Darragh Hand (who is having quite a year after being in the New Diorama’s For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy and The Pleasance’s The Land of Lost Content). Hand effortlessly switches between Clef, Aria’s best friend Bex and Aria’s music teacher Mr B. Both Samal and Hand give enough mannerisms and accents to their characters to make sure each is instantly recognisable. Samal’s Tone, full of swagger and ambition, is a brilliant creation while Hand’s music teacher is a flawed human rather than a pantomime villain.
They are joined on stage by Duramaney Kamara who plays the DJ, and who acts as a cheeky narrator. His asides are funny and help to bring humour into the play, but occasionally they also serve to undermine the tension that is on stage. Kamara, along with Samal and director Chris Sonnex, is also the composer of the handful of original songs in the play, with That Magic Place being a particular highlight, and Samal and Hand sing beautifully together. They bounce around the stage, never tiring, their moves and their lines never out of rhythm.
Bangers is also an homage to the music scene and the tracks are a mix of UK Garage and Grime. The liberatory aspect of dance music is captured nicely in a section where Aria dances to deep beats in the Ministry of Sound, and the gig that Clef and Tone play there is evocative of open mic and freestyle nights.
But at 70 minutes the play does sag in places, and it would be tighter if a few of the scenes and characters were cut. This would allow time for Clef’s story to be as developed as Aria’s and for Clef’s own search for truth to be signposted from the beginning. The commitment and the energy of the three actors never wavers, but the bass drop kicks in too early and we’re left with an extended DJ mix that doesn’t quite know how to finish.
Runs until 2 July 2022