On the 27th May something remarkable happened. I walked into a room. I took a seat alongside several other people (socially distanced of course) and then the lights went down and I watched a piece of live theatre. 14 months ago this would have been somewhat mundane but it was hard not to get emotional at the mere prospect of watching a show. It was clear that the Kings Head Theatre team were happy to welcome visitors back and they all deserve some appreciation for being able to stage this show, even if it is not in their usual home but a short walk away in Islington Square. I was very happy indeed that this was the first show I had the honour to see.
The chemistry between the two performers was electric and it was impossible to look away
No Strings Attached is a fairly simple production to mount, in theory, as it only requires two actors. However, the difficulty arises when you realise nearly the entire show takes place inside a car. Logistically this would normally present a challenge, yet the creative team did a fabulous job in creating a makeshift car out of scaffolding which was affixed with headlights, exhaust, reclining car seats, opening ‘doors’ and much more. The fact they had all these working parts surrounding their actors while keeping the performers visible is a testament to the work that went into this production (which was originally programmed to be on in Spring 2020) so a massive congratulations should go to set designer Sorcha Corcoran and lighting designer and production manager Richard Lambert for the impressive staging.
The two characters we meet are called simply Man and Boy. We join them moments after a liaison. Usual protocol at this point would dictate that they part ways. However, Charles Entsie has written a one hour show based on the conversation that follows. It starts off slow as the characters try to work each other out whilst keeping their cards very close to their chests but as the play rolls along and the tension ramps up they start to lower their guard. Yet are either of them really truthful with the other? It is clear why Charles’ script won the Adrian Pagan Award for New Writing. It is a terrific achievement for a new writer to have a dramatic piece of dialogue that hits so many beats whilst never dropping the atmosphere for a second.
Shak Benjamin, as Boy, is mesmerising to watch. TV audiences are due to see him soon in an upcoming ITV Drama called The Tower and based on his performance here alone I will be tuning in for sure. Shak plays Boy with the edge of a guy from the ‘hood and from the streets. We can truly see every thought that crosses his mind, and in the moments where he lets his vulnerability slip we can see how afraid he is and the actions that those emotions lead him to.
Razak Osman completes the cast as Man. Emotionally, Razak has further to go and he really pulls it off. Wanting to share his life outside of his car with Boy, while being careful to not reveal too much, the conflict inside Razak is clear to see. The chemistry between the two performers was electric and it was impossible to look away – even when the characters are distracted by noises from outside the safety of their car our eyes were glued, through the windscreen, to the pair inside.
Aileen Gonsalves has done a wonderful job with directing No Strings Attached. Although there were not many places, physically, for the cast to go she truly kept the show feeling alive. Most importantly she is not afraid to simply let the characters exist. There are several moments of silence which feel incredibly natural. It is rare to find a director brave enough to let two characters build and shift emotion in awkward silence but she does. A feat that absolutely paid off.
I would recommend anyone to go and watch No Strings Attached. At just 1 hour long, with no interval, this production is a sublime welcome back to dramatic theatre and keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. Well done to all involved.