Writer: Ryan Calais Cameron
Director: Anastasia Osei-Kuffor
A play about a big night out seems like a strange relic of a past life, something that with our long-term housebound existence we can barely recall. And while the end of social distancing may be on the horizon, Soho Theatre have a stark reminder of what ‘normal’ was really like with the on-demand release of Ryan Calais Cameron’s Typical which was staged at the venue in 2019 and has been specially filmed during the pandemic for digital release.
It is a long night for our hero, after getting through a day at his dull job, the ex-Paratrooper wants to forget about his problems by having a drink and a dance with his friends. But from reluctant pals claiming illness and a need to watch Gladiators on TV to being singled-out in the club, every stage of this increasingly awful night is shaped by assumptions about his race.
Based on the true story of Christopher Ibikunle Alde, Typical begins with quite a jaunty tone as the protagonist talks at speed about his life and family while getting ready to go out in a digressively entertaining monologue. Calais Cameron’s wordplay is hugely enjoyable, creating a beat poetry rhythm in places that creates a chain of thoughts using connecting words like discussing footballer Michael Owen and leading to his friend ‘owing’ a drink.
Set clearly in the 1990s, there are lots of references to the era such as The Lion King, Art Attack, the Spice Girls and other popular culture landmarks, including plenty of recognisable music that fills some of the space in this one-man play. Our hero is a man in limbo; a divorcee, a little older than he would like with two children he sees at weekends, who struggles with the routine of 9-5 and doesn’t quite know who he is without the external validations of family and the military.
What is so powerful about Calais Cameron’s story and this smartly filmed production is that everyone else seems to know him. Initially, his race is hardly an issue, the bouncer may be delaying entry for plenty of reasons and the people staring at him in the club might be critiquing his dancing. But as the evening draws on, Typical slowly raises the tension as the hero is jostled by some thugs, is propositioned by a woman who can’t see past his skin colour and is accused of being aggressive at the hospital.
Using dynamic camera work, director Anastasia Osei-Kuffor rapidly cuts to different angles on the performer to reflect conversations, a technique that becomes particularly effective during a fight scene that mixes physical movement with narration, zooming-in to emphasise the disorientation. It lays the groundwork for a brutal and powerful final sequence that contrasts pointedly with the lightness of Typical’s early scenes and has a lasting effect.
With an energetic performance, Richard Blackwood captures the two perspectives in this story with clarity, showing both the innocence and insecurity of the hero while reflecting the judgement and preconceptions of those he meets. Blackwood is especially good during the scenes with dialogue, flipping rapidly between characters while increasing the pace as events escalate quickly beyond his character’s control.
Calais Cameron’s story about typical man trying to have a typical night out is anything but ordinary. It saves most of its power for the final 15-minutes, perhaps lingering a little too long on the build-up, yet the expressive style of Typical has considerable impact in this new digital format and it will leave you hoping that any future big nights out are far from typical.