The true art of theatre is taking the bare minimum — two actors and two chairs for example — and making that simplicity feel about as epic as the earth. Not many people can pull it off, but the extraordinary writer-director Ché Walker manages exactly that with his new musical drama Klook's Last Stand. This tiny play in the tiny second space at the Park Theatre has soul pouring out of its ears.
The story concerns Klook (Ako Mitchell), a smooth but enigmatic chancer who tries his luck with the sinuous Vinette (Sheila Atim) — seducing her with only a carrot juice and a few killer lines. It’s a playful take on classic American noir that starts terse and tough but soon melts away as the two strangers become lovers and the rest of the world evaporates.
The dialogue and song lyrics are scooped out hot from a rich spicy stew of ideas, as if the characters are at full intellectual stretch trying to describe all the ways they intoxicate each other. Walker masterfully mixes street slang, synaesthesia, metaphysical poetry and mixed metaphors, clever internal rhymes reminiscent of rap music and highfalutin literary discourse as Klook and Vinette relate their unpredictable tale of joy and pain. So much for the rule of ‘show don’t tell’ — 90% of the play is two people waxing polysyllabic about their past — and it works brilliantly. There is more chemistry here than in the testing room at Pfizer. Mitchell and Atim don’t just give performances but turn themselves into natural forces careening into each other’s orbit: hurricane Vinette versus volcanic mount Klook. (Walker’s wonderfully overwrought style is admittedly a tad infectious).
The songs by Anoushka Lucas thread their way through the drama organically, sometimes a full number complete with hypnotising choreography, sometimes a throwaway line like Klook telling Vinette she is: “gooood shiiiiiiieeet”. It has a raw, subtle power that is testament to both Lucas’s control and the wonderful playing of Rio Kai, who is also on stage throughout the performance, reacting to the actors and audience. The music also has input from two legends: neo-soul singer Omar and super-producer Steven Rinkoff (the man who brought you Total Eclipse of the Heart). This is a soft-boiled soul opera, gloriously runny in the middle and served sunny side up. Book your seats now.
Klook’s Last Stand is on at the Park Theatre, Finsbury Park, until 6 July. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.