Dolphins & Sharks
Reviewed – 15th September 2017
“Highly provocative, this left people arguing in the bar long past the show ended.”
I once read that when viewing theatre you should ask two questions – ‘why this play?’ and ‘why now?’, I don’t think I have ever seen a play on the London Fringe that gives such an immediate and affirmative answer to those questions, as Dolphins and Sharks.
Set in 2014, this is the story of 5 people grounded in a Harlem copy shop where racial, economic and social tensions flicker as brightly as the light from the broken down printer. We see them struggle to maintain their hope as pressures beyond their control mount and conspire to threaten what they value most, ultimately turning on each other as they clammer to stay afloat in a sinking world.
This is an invigorating production. What is extraordinary about this play is how much it achieves in its simplicity. James Anthony Tyler’s script doesn’t try to make grandiose statements about race and society, it settles for creating characters with warmth, humour and a level of humanity that is still only rarely afforded stage time for characters of non-white origin. In doing so, the swing it takes at modern America and Western values is far more ferocious than any political agenda can manage, encompassing questions of race, class, gender and economic corruption. These characters aren’t trying to change the world, they are just trying to survive in it; playing by rules they had no hand in making and fighting odds which are stacked against them. It’s effortlessly brutal and heart-breaking, offering no easy answers and issuing a direct challenge to its audience.
The cast is exceptional. Each character is vividly drawn and played with spirit and compassion. At the heart is Shyko Amos as Isabel, a woman who still finds the strength to be kind in a world that treats her with contempt. Amos’ performance is phenomenal. We laugh with Isabel, never at her, making the realisation of how badly she has been failed a punch in the gut that left the audience gasping. As Yusuf, the innocent who tries to keep faith that he can be his own man by doing the ‘right’ thing, Ammar Duffus is compelling. Shading each crack in Yusuf’s naivety and gently switching between charm, pride and vulnerability, keeping the audience on side as his desperation becomes more apparent. Scaling the corporate ladder, Rachel Handshaw’s Xiomara is torn between ambition, loyalty and expectation. Handshaw never lets the audience lose sight of her conflict, even as her friends do.
Hermeilio Miquel Aquino’s Danilo blasts onto the stage with a blitz of energy and charisma, which only becomes more energising as the character’s enthusiasm wanes. Finally Miquel Brown anchors the show as Miss Amenze, a woman standing up against the waste of potential she sees in the youth of her community. Lydia Parker’s direction is natural and invisible, giving the actors the full scope and freedom to do these characters justice. The set design is beautiful. The soundtrack beats are pounding. This is simply a quality production, with not a hair out of place.
I can’t recommend this play highly enough. Highly provocative, this left people arguing in the bar long past the show ended. Highlighting the issues of 2014, only serves to put a more glaring lens on the problems of today. How much have we accepted on blind faith? How much do we continue to accept? To survive amongst the sharks, dolphins need to swim together. But can the dolphins take on the sharks and re-write the rule book in order to thrive? Ultimately that is the gauntlet that this play throws down and it’s a question we all need to be asking.
Reviewed for thespyinthestalls.com
Photography by Alexander Yip
DOLPHINS & SHARKS
is at the Finborough Theatre until 30th September