Few actors in Casualty go on to great things, but Kwame Kwei-Armah is an exception. A perceptive observer of the black-British community and its heritage, he has been ploughing a rich furrow for long enough to be invited onto Andrew Marr’s Start the Week to discuss his newest, sixth play.
Patently written in the shadow of Barack Obama’s election as President of the United States, you might imagine the story of a black-British London Mayoral Candidate to be an uplifting one, capturing the spirit of ‘yes we can,’ if not the exact soundbite.
Seize the Day is a strange beast, however, and a long way from the Dizzee Rascal interpretation of our epoch (see below). The plot is informed by the twin themes of community and service. Perhaps the most informative fact of Barack Obama’s story was that the two combined – in the way African-Americans see themselves and responded to the opportunity to elect one of their own, and in the specific role of community organiser that Obama performed in Chicago before going to Law School.
For Kwei-Armah, however, the black British community, though it palpably exists, is not served by politics. In the battle between the two, the former excludes the latter – an outcome we can only guess the effect of on the watching David Lammy MP. The metropolitan caucus of Ethnic Minority Leaders in Britain fight amongst themselves for their own constituencies, fighting a PR battle against those they supposedly represent. When the play’s hero writes an article (against his instincts) castigating the black community for a lack of discipline, he forfeits the trust of a young boy who becomes his moral compass.
Though most characters are granted a form of redemption through one sub-plot or another, it’s a striking conclusion. why resist the temptation to enact the ideal? Is it because Kwei-Armah feels that the black community is not ready for a black mayor? The playwright certainly has as difficult a job as his protagonist when it comes to communicating social remedies, but at least he makes the effort.