King Hamlin delivers a dense, extremely relevant drama. If you are used to hearing the sad news about the ‘young man stabbed in the neighbourhood’ on the radio, this show gives you a chance to peek behind the standard news tagline and discover the true story and the desperation behind it. It is a painful, authentic, young piece of writing – not perfect, but extremely touching.

Credit: Steve Gregson

For two hours, we trace the fate of three local boys – Hamlin, Nic, and Quinn – from a council estate. Hamlin’s father died and left his family in a less-than-ideal situation with constant money issues. Feeling the pressure, Hamlin wants to help his mom and find a decent job, which ends up being an impossible feat. That’s when his friends started insisting on entering a new business type…a less legal one. From here on, it gets dirty and messy. We follow Hamlin like a white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, paving the way to gang culture, illegal trade, and knife stabbings.

Such a heavy topic requires heavy artillery (or rather, sharp knives) of scriptwriting. I was waiting for a huge bang by the end, and what I got was a decent, emotional monologue with Hamlin baring his soul (and his body, as he ditches layers of his clothes). But it was more of a quiet tone rather than an electrical zip that I wanted to feel by the end.

The young cast is extremely talented. What Harris Cain as Hamlin does exceptionally well is showcasing the desperation of a young black male with no perspectives, which pushes him to go against his limits. I could feel the discomfort Hamlin must have felt when he first started doing rounds and selling on the street. Cain does well in his touching monologues, performing with dimmed lights and accompanying background sounds. Nic (Andrew Evans) is such a spitfire on stage. He’s like a pitbull – jumping, shouting, and constantly moving as he delivers his lines. He seemed extremely natural in his delivery and explicitly conveyed Nic’s constant need for power and control. Inaam Barwani as Quinn serves as a bit of a comedy sidekick with his silly humour and constant smile. I was not a fan of how his lines were written, with every sentence ending in ‘bro’ and just sounding less than believable altogether. Barwani did his best in the role though, portraying an easily fooled, tragic character.

Credit: Steve Gregson

The story is a painful one with the potential to turn decent writing into something great. The first act seems a bit in-your-face in terms of laying the ground about the setting of the family situation. All the information about Hamlin’s dad and his past is served to an audience on a silver platter. No secrets are left out as Hamlin talks to his mom and friends. It’s a shame because leaving certain things unsaid would play to the production’s advantage. 

The first act’s script generally seems a bit clunky with certain moments seemingly too much of exposition-like fillers and sounding as if taken straight from a ‘Youth at Risk’ leaflet. The second act plays much more on the emotional notes and speeds up the whole experience.

I felt quite disconnected from the issues showcased. Hamlin explains that he can’t find a job because most of the companies ask him to work from home on a laptop he doesn’t own. But isn’t the supermarket ‘greeter’ role he’s after a typical in-person role based in a store?

A theme of plants, growing just like human ambitions and happiness, prevails through the show. I wondered, ‘Isn’t it too simplistic?’ It’s extremely straightforward how the plants Mama H. grows react to what happens on the stage. In a show like this, which aspires to be slightly off-the-beaten-path, throwing such classic metaphors felt like a hit-and-miss.

Enriching the story is a stellar immersive sound design. The vibe of a proper council estate (dogs barking, doors shutting, loud conversations) surrounds the audience from the moment they enter the auditorium, through the interval, and during the play itself. It’s amplified by Lara Genovese’s disturbing, overloaded set. The walls are dark and tagged by simple, ugly graffiti, and the interior of the council flat is damp, cluttered, and filled with plants. By the end, it gets even messier as trash gets added to the set, adding to the already overwhelming mess (script and design-wise). 

King Hamlin delivers a powerful, urgent story, but its storyline is still a bit rough around the edges. I believe it’s a good start to this play’s long journey!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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