Theatre Review: Kings

Theatre Review: Kings

“Leaving a bar at 4am, I got more pissed off with someone asking me for some change, then at the person paying me minimum wage”. This was a striking moment in my conversation with Oli Forsyth, the writer/director of the Smoke and Oakum’s latest play, Kings. This stuck with me, because although we might claim that the government is letting the most vulnerable in society down, there is one thing that unifies us all: ignoring them when they ask for our cash.

And that’s a hard pill to swallow. But Kings is not an extended PSA, intended to guilt us into giving away our hard-earned pennies. It’s a balanced, funny, but ultimately enlightening look at rough sleepers and the communities they form outside of ours.

But first, a bit of history. Oli formed Smoke and Oakum in 2013, and has gone on to produce five plays and direct two. This was not always Oli’s intended route, he “started out as a spoken word poet, and sort of a stand-up”. Although the formats are different, Oli credits these early steps with giving him an “introduction to an audience that gives you no freebies,” and gave him a need to write quickly, sometimes only having “10 hours to write a poem or set”.

The real turning point for Oli was when a writer, Ed Harris, came to his film school to give a talk. He had written a play called, The Cow Play, and Oli liked it so much he said he would produce it. Was all smooth from then on?
“I spent a year on the back foot getting a real kicking,” was Oli response. But once he finished the run he “really wanted to do it again”.

Throughout our conversation, I felt that Oli had a clear understanding of the community, and I of course, wanted to know what inspired him to write about rough sleepers. “I’ve been volunteering at homeless shelters, and I wanted to talk about people who were left out of society, who were given the motivation to not play by societies rules”. I wondered if this meant that they had a sort of freedom, and Oli agreed, saying “The power they get by not being part of society is big, it is a bizarre twist on the outlaw, society doesn’t respect them, so why should they play by our rules?”

The play is a relentless ride with quick fire dialogue and plenty of conflict. This was Oli’s aim, for him “it is about creating two characters who can converse in a way that is truthful, whilst at the same time being enlivening and entertaining for audiences”. I admit that I loved that the play was under 90 minutes, but I’m surprised when Oli tells me that it is his longest play to date, and that the first rehearsal came in at 55 minutes. Turns out, this is normal for fringe writers, Oli explains that “from an early age you are taught that a play needs to come to an hour. You get used to those confines, and it takes some doing to break out of those barriers”. So how do you break out? “Places like the new Diorama are brilliant,” Oli replies, “because they give you time to do work on an idea that requires a bit longer”.

Go to be shocked, to be challenged, and to hear from someone you’ve never heard from before.

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