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Mogadishu, Royal Exchange, review

Maria Roberts admires but can’t love Vivienne Franzmann’s award-winning play

Published on February 2nd 2011.

Mogadishu, Royal Exchange, review

The Bruntwood Playwriting Competition is a cherry-topped opportunity for playwrights. Applications are submitted anonymously to the Royal Exchange Theatre and past winners, such as Ben Musgrave (2005, performed 2007) have leapt from obscurity to centre stage.

I was not upset by the so-called offensive elements: caustic language, self-harm, despair, or even suicide. I was, however, left with an overwhelming sense that pure motivation and storytelling had been sacrificed in favour of set pieces.

Cue this debut by Vivienne Franzmann, who was one of four writers awarded first prize in 2008. Franzmann’s writing CV is already sparkling with accolades: she also won the George Devine Award for most promising playwright of 2010, and is currently under commission to Clean Break Theatre and the Royal Court.

The play follows the story of Jason (Malachi Kirby), a disturbed and menacing ringleader who lands his softie middle-class teacher Amanda (Julia Ford) in big trouble when he accuses her of racism and assault in a bid to cover his own back. From herein begins chaos—the Mogadishu of the title—as Jason envelops his playground crew in his dastardly plan. Malachi Kirby’s performance as Jason is nothing short of excellent as he morphs from an intimidating hateful little shite at school, to a fretful, uncertain and apologetic son at home.

Jason’s effective change in character was obviously signaled by slipping on different clothes. For his hardman persona: trainers, a hoodie, and an earring; yet school tie and smart shoes in his role as an anxious child. Kirby entices the audience to despise and sympathise with Jason; and this of course mirrors the predicament of Amanda, the teacher whom he wants to destroy.

The young cast, most appearing for the first time at the Royal Exchange Theatre, put in impressive performances. Each enjoyed some great comic moments, with particular tag-team efficiency employed by (Ben) Fraser James and (Chuggs) Tendayi Jembere. A special mention should also go to Ian Dickinson whose cloying sound design superbly complimented the uneasy atmosphere of the cage that encased the stage.

Mogadishu covers acres of interesting ground: how white middle-class teachers relate to students from a different background, the danger of racial tension, and what happens when an average little white girl, here in the form of Amanda’s daughter, Becky, (Shannon Tarbet) is assumed to be doing OK because she’s an A* student. Yet Mogadishu tries to hit the hills, sky and sea too and it is here the play gets (forgive the mixed metaphor) bogged down.

Jason thinks he can escape trouble: “if everyone says the same thing”. The play’s downfall is that too many characters “say the same thing” and snap back rabbit-fashion dialogue, rather than adding to the mix.

ACTING HEAD, CHRIS: I know this is difficult
AMANDA: Do you?

A few seconds later:
CHRIS: That’s not fair
AMANDA: Isn’t it?

AMANDA: I don’t feel like me anymore, I don’t feel like myself, I don’t feel like I know who I am.

And on and on it goes. If there was an award for overused words in a play, Mogadishu would win bronze for ‘why’; silver for ‘what’; and gold for ‘I don’t know’.

Jason’s response to his father is, ‘I don’t know’; Chris’s response to Amanda, ‘I don’t know’; and Amanda’s response to Chris ‘I don’t know’. When my companion asked me if the play was over, or it was only the interval, my response was ‘I don’t know’.

I was not upset by the so-called offensive elements: caustic language, self-harm, despair, or even suicide. I was, however, left with an overwhelming sense that pure motivation and storytelling had been sacrificed in favour of set pieces. The plot was overcrowded. The dramatic reveals were painfully drawn out. I wanted to love Mogadishu but when Amanda said “I don’t know” yet again in the final furlong I wanted to stand up and scream, "I don’t fucking know either".

Mogadishu packs in every social problem going, whilst saying little. It could say so much more, if only it tried to do less. Get a ticket because there’s value seeing these emerging actors, and this new work — just don’t be surprised if you leave feeling irritated and a little angry.

Maybe that’s the point.

Mogadishu was the Bruntwood Playwriting Competition Winner 2008. It’s at the Royal Exchange until 19 February. Box Office 0161 833 9833.www.royalexchange.co.uk

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6 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousFebruary 7th 2011.

We went to see Mogadishu on Saturday and believe it is an excellent play; gripping, moving, exciting, with a great cast. It was an emotional roller coaster ride. As always it was brilliantly directed by Matthew Dunster.
I think Maria Roberts' review is rather mean.Please don't be put off.Go, go, go.

B RootFebruary 7th 2011.

That's the nature of reviews. As long as they are intelligently argued then criticism should welcomed.

AnonymousFebruary 12th 2011.

Completely disagree with this review. Went with a group of teachers this evening. We all sat there nodding our heads throughout. Brilliant script writing and great play. I loved it. Go and see it!

RAKKLEFebruary 14th 2011.

Saw this today and really enjoyed it. Well scripted, well cast and well acted.
I thought the uncertainty in language identified above was very in keeping with the desire not to offend or anger that seemed to be a recurring theme.
I thought the depiction of peer pressure as not simply a teenage affliction, but something with obvious parallels in a desire amongst the middle classes to reflect 'political correctness' were well drawn.
As a self-confessed bleeding heart liberal, I found it easy to identify with the need to categorise the 'unfortunates' as easily helped by someone who'd just believe in them.
Well worth a visit if you can get a ticket.

Brian CFebruary 15th 2011.

Having read the review I think that the appeal of this to mewas probably non existent. Then I read the 'anonymous comment' about a group of Teachers nodding their heads and decided it definitely was non existent, if it attracts that type of audience. Why do some people in audiences feel it necessary to show 'how tuned in we are' or the other type who feel it necessary to 'hah hah' at every tenuous bit of humour. I dont believe it is natural, it's that 'look at me I am so with it that I dont miss anything' Well. You type of people are a scourge on the rest of us who want to watch a play and not be unnecessarily disturbed by someone wishing they were on the stage themselves.

karlindaoneFebruary 16th 2011.

Went to see this play last night, I cried I laughed, I thought, It was so inspiring, moving, an amzing. The production was so creative. Actors were amazing creating such high tension, you could hear a pin drop and the echo of the words swirrling around the theatre.
Thank you for truth!

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