James Hooton and Kent Riley in Our Style is Legendary
To say that Our Style Is Legendary is based in Nottingham is to be guilty of a gross understatement. Even to say that it is named after Nottingham City Council's erstwhile motto, set on the St Anns estate, written by locally born actor/writer Daniel Hoffman-Gill, acted by an East Midlands cast, nurtured by a commission from the Nottingham Playhouse and sponsored by Nottingham's foremost cultural website is to entirely underestimate quite how Notts this play is!
For, at every turn mention is made of local schools, pubs, oddball characters, streets, games, gang rivalries, teachers and just about anything else instantly familiar to someone who grew up here, and all delivered in utterly authentic dialect. The local mentions elicited delighted squeals of childhood recollection from the audience, though one wonders whether they would make the play impenetrable to someone unfamiliar with the world's best city.
The play is about two young teenage boys who meet and form a lasting friendship after a discussion about Raleigh Choppers and an exchange of hip-hop mix tapes. As we follow their entwined lives through to adulthood, we see how their upbringing on an estate blights their lives and their struggle to escape their inexorable fate of drug use, violence and hopelessness. This makes it sound like a gritty, worthy issues-based play but nothing could be further from the truth.
Kent Riley in Our Style Is Legendary
The play is more a fond recollection of juvenile drug use from early experimentation huffing deodorant canisters through to the acid house and rave era, with plenty of laughs along the way. Michael, played by Central TV Workshop alumnus Andre Squire, has a negligent mother and an absent father. Danny, on the other hand, comes from a relatively better off background and sets about enthusiastic social abseiling. He turns down the private school and university, much to the disgust of the boys' friend Shelley, whose ambition is frustrated by her circumstances and who would kill for Danny's opportunities. Danny is more interested in getting high with the help of scouse drug dealer Stone, played by Kent Riley, whose lack of social skills and desperate, violent disposition come to define the grim life of the boys.
The stage is haunted by another graduate of the Central TV Workshop, James Hooton, taking a break from playing Sam Dingle in Emmerdale. Before the play, he staggers around with a can of Special Brew, riffing with the audience. Playing, with great subtlety, a character known only at The Swinging Man, he evokes the ghosts of all the broken, pained souls who inhabit the sink estates whose lives could have been so much more.
The evocation of life on the estates is bleak, not a picture of Nottingham likely to be promoted by the local council or tourist board, and yet the characters of the people within those areas are shown with a true appreciation of their beauty. But then again, the uplifting bond that Danny and Michael share as they grow up contrasts again with the damage they do to each other with their lack of ambition.
What makes Our Style Is Legendary fascinating is the depiction of these contrasting aspects of Nottingham which I suspect we all recognise even if we are inured to them. Perhaps not since the definitive Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, have the ambiguities of Nottingham life been so perceptively evoked on the stage. Let's hope the play gets the greater exposure it deserves after this short run.
Our Style Is Legendary runs at the Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 5 May 2012.