Fringe Box



Young Playwright’s New Work Is A ‘Tour de Force Of Nature’

Published on: 13 Nov, 2014
Updated on: 15 Nov, 2014

By Ruchi Srivastava

Kate Tempest was already welcomed and recognised by theatrical circles as a fresh and talented playwright after her debut play, Wasted. However, she has successfully managed to stun audiences once again with her soul-stirring new play, Hopelessly Devoted, that played at Guildford’s Electric Theatre on Tuesday this week (November 11).

Playwright Kate Tempest.

Playwright Kate Tempest.

Hailing from south-east London, Kate is not only a writer but also a poet and rapper, who began rapping at the age of 16. She gradually moved into performing poetry by the time she was 21.

Kate’s work and music clearly reflect social themes of class, poverty and power issues, resulting in the creation of stirring performances. Apart from receiving rave reviews for her work, Kate has received public love and support.

For instance, her first one-woman show Brand New Ancients received standing ovations every night that it played at the Battersea Arts Centre in 2012. It also won the Ted Hughes Prize.

In addition to this, more recently, Kate released an album Everybody Down, which was produced by Dan Carey and was nominated for the 2014 Mercury Prize.

With such an impressive list of achievements, I was understandably very excited when I got the chance to attend the play at the Electric Theatre. However, I will admit that there was a tiny part of me that wondered whether the play would live up to the hype and praise that surrounded it.

Let me be very clear, it more than amply justified all the praise, it managed to move me. Hopelessly Devoted is a tour de force of nature that draws you into the narrow walls of a prison cell that reflect the trapped nature of the protagonist’s mind, Chess.

The story revolves around Chess, who although facing a long prison sentence manages to find love in the form of her cellmate, Serena. However, after Serena is granted parole, Chess begins to lose herself in the horrors of her own past.

It is at this point, that the entry of a music producer, Silver offers Chess a glimpse of hope as Silver helps Chess re-discover her passion for music.

Dealing with redemption, this is a play that forces you to also think about the never-ending cycles of violence and crime without being patronising. Using music as a driving force throughout, the play stresses on the predicament of the characters who remain trapped in their own minds until they choose to break free.

The cast is supremely talented, particularly the character of Chess, played by Sheila Atim. When she sings, she forces you to keep your eyes, your mind, your heart, all on her. Literally, I do not think I blinked even once as I watched her. Her emotions, her vulnerability and her strength are portrayed beautifully.

Chess is supported by the characters of Serena as well as Silver, played by Demi Oyediran and Frances Ashman. Their stories also blend in with Chess’s in a beautiful manner and manages to showcase the bonding that exists between people even in a place as bleak as a prison.

There is also a fair sprinkling of good-hearted ribbing and humour throughout the play which manages to balance out the darker, more serious moments. Silver, as the music producer is key in this role as she uses all the tricks of her trade to get through Chess.

I would have to say though that the absolute star of the show is undoubtedly the music. The lyrics which have been written by Kate Tempest and Dan Carey are what lends power and beauty to the songs. It will change your perception about rapping because they make rapping meaningful.


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