God's Property is a new play set in 1982 - a time of inner city tensions, unemployment and riots. The timing of the play, written by Soho Six writer Arinze Kene, is apt.
Set in Deptford in South London, we're a long way from the big bang, yuppies or power dressing. Instead we are presented with two mixed race brothers - both half Irish, half Nigerian. The past life of Chima (Kingsley Ben-Adir), who has just been released from prison, is gradually revealed throughout. Various interpretations of his history and character emerge. Kene does a good job keeping Chima ambiguous - Chima is an unknown quantity, and this adds to a strong sense of tension. It's claustrophobic and unsettling as Chima swings between relaxed and thoughtful, to enraged and unstable. Ben-Adir gives an arresting performance.
Chima's brother, Onochie (Ash Hunter), is uneasy about his brother's return. He's also keen to keep his (white) girlfriend, Holly (Ria Zmitrowicz), apart from his older brother. Onochie is young, naive and idealistic and to his older brother's despair he runs in a crowd of skin heads.
The dialogue in God's Property, which is occasionally lyrical and ornate, might feel out of place. While not strictly speaking sticking to the gritty social realism of the play, I actually quite enjoyed this. It served to highlight the mad Swiftian irony running through the piece - a mixed race skin head racist. In fact the play is full of these sorts of darkly comic flourishes, which add to a sense of unreality and a context which seems unhinged. It's odd to think this was London a few decades ago.
God's Property does, however, rush to resolve itself and the result felt too neatly tied up for me. The ambiguities and complexities of the play quickly disappear and we are left with a strong moral judgement. For me, this didn't fit into the earlier mood of the play which had - to Kene's credit - avoided strong judgements, and had instead highlighted the importance of a characters context to understanding their motives, prejudices and faults.
The performance runs until 23 March at the Soho Theatre and will be showing at mac in Birmingham 26 - 28 March