Tragic romance, vengeance, violence and a romantic candle-lit balcony – The Frontline is definitely in keeping with the Globe’s Shakespearean roots, but this time it’s written for a new generation. With a stage crammed full of misfit characters, Ché Walker’s new play, written specifically for this theatre, is a chaotic look into the lives of lost members of a very 21st century society.
Set outside Camden tube station on a Saturday night, iconic Banksy graffiti decorates either side of the stage and the call of skunk, hash and weed floats across the air as drug dealers clad in track suits and baseball caps hang around, looking worryingly young. The play begins with a barrage of conversations on stage, all taking place between different characters at the same time, completely overwhelming the audience. Suddenly the action is paused by the commanding presence of the Scottish hotdog seller and frequent voice of reason, who comes to the front of the stage and addresses the audience in the style of a Shakespearean narrator, informing us that tonight, Miruts, a young, eloquent drug dealer, will be murdered.
For the next two hours the audience is given a small insight into the people who conduct their lives on this depraved corner and the sequence of events leading to a young man’s death. There is Violet, the foul-mouthed lap dancer soliciting business while attempting to seduce a bouncer who is more interested in learning new words in order that he might form worthy thoughts than women and fighting. Elliot the baby-faced dealer who takes his Valium addict mother by the throat when she begs him to come home. Ragdale, a lonely old man who claims everyone to be his lost daughter. Mordechai Thurrock, the vain struggling actor who, blind to the problems surrounding him, straddles a junkie in order to get to the public phone so he can beg people to attend his dire sounding play. And the tragic lovers, the feisty tube worker who desperately tries to show Miruts his potential, before ultimately cradling his broken body on the stage.
Full of humour and violence in equal measures, The Frontline is arguably a depressing view of city life across Britain today – the characters even enter the stage singing that they are the desperate and invisible. But Walker wanted to express the hope and potential in these characters lives, which he successfully does by introducing music to the piece, monopolising some of the beautiful gospel voices present in the cast, even ending the production on a jig.
As the last scene commences, the stage becomes as chaotic as it began as the audience is forced to leave the characters it has met to their lives outside the underground, unsure if anything will change after the horrific events that have unfolded. Frighteningly relevant to today’s society, the solidarity eventually shown in The Frontline only something we can strive for in reality.