Writer Che Walker and composer Arthur Darvill have teamed up once again to create a second piece as punchy, relevant and soul-fuelled as their first, Shakespeare’s Globe’s The Frontline. This time the Young Vic plays host to the lost souls of Camden in musical Been So Long.
Ice queen Simone (Cat Simmons) and her larger-than-life and twice as loud friend Yvonne (Naana Agyei-Ampadu) have come to the seedy watering hole Arizona, ‘The soul desert’, which is soon to become another closed down, boarded up bar on Camden High Street. Simone is on the prowl for men, while Yvonne is desperate not to have another night out dictated by whether they get lucky after numerous sweaty men buy them drinks and attempt a half-hearted conversation. Unfortunately, her wish is not to be fulfilled as the men around her are determined to make the night go with a bang.
Meanwhile tracksuit-wearing skinhead Gil (Harry Hepple), heartbroken and full of murderous fury, is tracking down the infamous Raymond LeGendre (Arinze Kene) in order that he can kill him for stealing the love of his life from under his nose. But there is more to the flawless Casanova Raymond than meets the eye, and unexpected romance threatens to blossom in places where iron cast boundaries once stood. Finally, the ever watchful barman Barney (Omar Lye-Fook) just wants to get through last orders and his life of unrequited love quietly, without any of the drama that naturally unfolds around him.
Pulling microphones from hidden crevices on the vast mirrored bar set and breaking into a mix of melancholy soul, rap and diva-like ballads, the characters reveal their true feelings and desires through song, whether they be fear, rejection or simply the want of a good man. The songs are touchingly unselfconscious, mixing Mike Skinner-style lyrics revealing their inner stream of thought with the heart of Otis Reading. The play’s language is a similarly bizarre mix of urban, biting cusses and florid Shakespearean style.
This is not the only echo of the Bard’s work; Che Walker’s themes of love, redemption, unrequited passions and revenge, mixed with a subtle dose of mistaken identity, create a sense that as modern and relevant to the 21st century the story of these Camden misfits may be, it is a tale that has been told before in many different ways, but never with so much soul.