King’s Head Theatre, London – until 19 June 2021
Guest reviewer: Diana Miranda
It’s been 436 days since the King’s Head Theatre closed its doors due to the pandemic, but who’s counting. The theatre makes a comeback with the debut of No Strings Attached by Charles Entsie, an absorbing, site-specific production about the encounter between two strangers late at night, on the third floor of an underground car park, hiding from other people’s gaze.
Staged at The Ignition Room, King’s Head Theatre pop-up venue at Islington Square, this show unfolds in a small, echo-y square space of grey walls and concrete columns. Sorcha Corcoran and Richard Lambert’s designs come together to create the atmosphere of a hidden yet public spot. There are parking marks on the floor and a car chassis under a soft orange strip lighting. The sound of engines, along with traffic lights, as set against the walls create a pre-set with a vehicular vibe, although these are not really necessary once Boy and Man enter the scene.
When the actors take their seats, their movements converge with ingenious sound and lighting effects to evoke the intimate nature of the inside of a car. As the show moves forward, the mind’s eye dresses the naked vehicle as a fancy car thanks to the Boy’s remarks on the Man’s “legit” way of life: working in the city, respected by colleagues, fancy suit, fancy ride.
Razak Osman’s performance as the Man is powerful and captivating. He embarks on a soul-stripping journey depicting a person’s outburst who’s been holding back long enough. It is he who carries the story through, evolving from self-restriction to an emotional rollercoaster. The Boy’s performance doesn’t stay behind. Shak Benjamin has a strong presence, and while his character is seemingly stabler, a wary but unbothered young man, his face surely reveals what his long pauses hide.
The story flows smoothly in a dynamic mix of grounded silences and bursts of energy. The Boy’s aloofness strikes a balance with the Man’s earnestness during their conversation. There is a prevailing tone of secrecy, but subtle touches of humour bring laughter to the audience and lighten the mood.
The shoe-box implications of the play’s set are no limitation for Aileen Gonsalves’ direction. Benjamin and Osman engage in a perfect match of action-reaction between each other and their environment. They are 100% truthful within Gonsalves’ aim to foster candid responses.
Entsie’s play is an honest, sometimes intense depiction of how people get entangled in narratives of the so-called “legit” way of life and how subjective they may be. The story also highlights the complexities of the concept of privilege. Boy is looking for certainty, Man is looking for excitement, but neither gets what they want because of the secrets they seem compelled to keep in order to meet society’s expectations. It unveils the frustration and fear of feeling a lack of agency in one’s life, the redemption that comes from finding someone to talk to, and serves as a call to loosen the tie of reduced expectations that come from have only oneself to respond to, with no strings attached.