The Lonely Londoners at Jermyn Street Theatre | Review

The Lonely Londoners is a tale about four Trinidadian men, rootless, jobless and unprepared for the hostility they face upon arriving in London in the mid to late1950s. The three women whom they marginally engage with, and either fail to love, respect or protect, reveal a sharp contrast between how women find solutions in difficult times as opposed to their male counterparts.

Gamba Cole, Romario Simpson, Tobi Bakare, photo by Alex Brenner.
Gamba Cole, Romario Simpson, Tobi Bakare, photo by Alex Brenner.

Originally a novel by Sam Selvon, published in 1956, The Lonely Londoners was adapted for the stage by Roy Williams in 2024. Director Ebenezer Bamgboye is responsible for the powerful structure and grace of the current stage adaptation of the book.

The Lonely Londoners also benefits from a stellar group of creatives. It is a play fuelled by hypnotic swirls of gymnastic style, and modern-dance movement (Nevena Stojkov) infused with sexual energy, torment, futility, rage and despair. Incorporated into much of the play, its stylish gymnastics split the walls of narrative in a celebration of theatre itself – and the actors who arch their bodies around these physical rhythms, accompanied by sound (Tony Gayle) and light (Elliot Griggs) are absolutely magnificent to watch.

The play’s set design (Laura Ann Price) matches the power of its movement design. As the audience enters the theatre, the entire cast is already assembled on stage. Each of its seven characters are seated on steamer trunks, their backs to a black-painted wall embedded with block-glass windows. The square-shaped windows, each containing rows of smaller squares of blocked glass. This opaque rigid construction struck me as a stylish reimagining of the bars on penitentiary windows.

The steamer trunks, ever-present on stage – and which all the characters return to at different points in the play – symbolised the experience of a Black British subject of the Commonwealth at that period in time, not yet unpacked or assimilated into Great Britain. The expanse of the black wall is also a reminder that, indeed, without jobs and a permanent place to live, each character’s back is metaphorically against a wall.

The first characters we meet are Moses (Gamba Cole) and Christina (Aimee Powell). She is a young woman, clad in a silk-white night dress and with a sweet singing voice. Moses’ face is filled with a disturbed longing to both reach out to Christina and to avoid her.

It soon becomes apparent Moses is a saviour-like figure, offering advice, cigarettes and temporary accommodation to his male brethren who seek employment and acceptance in London. His friend Lewis (Tobi Bakare), a thoughtful, but deeply troubled young man, lives with his intelligent, rational and strong-willed wife Agnes (Shannon Hayes). His mother Tanty (Carol Moses) arrives from Trinidad to share their small apartment in Bayswater and is shocked at the paltry living conditions available to Black people in London.

The two women hit it off, each a realist in the face of adversity and how one might circumvent it, but Lewis does not share their confidence. He is beleaguered with doubts about his own manhood. What kind of man can he be if he is without a job and unable to support his wife and mother?

And it is this theme of manhood and responsibility that haunts each male character in the play, including Moses, who seems the most stable but harbours a sense of guilt and regret so powerful it threatens to destroy his own self-preservation.

Of the two new arrivals who seek help from Moses, it is Henry (Romario Simpson), who is filled with bravado and self-confidence. He views himself as a conquerer of London town and its women, who he imagines will fall at his feet. He is thrilled when his mates anoint him with the name ‘Galahad’.

Big City (Gilbert Kyem Jnr), also seeks Moses for advice. Big City is the most susceptible of the four males, easily led into crime and without an understanding of its punishing consequences.

The males, despondent and with little hope of respectful employment, find there is a power dynamic they share, one that prejudice and its inherent cruelty, is powerless to erase.

See this play for its inventive forms of theatre, but mostly for its celebration of persistence and the inherent truth that courage will prevail.

5 Stars

Review by Loretta Monaco

London, 1956. Newly arrived from Trinidad, Henry ‘Sir Galahad’ Oliver is impatient to start his new life in London. Carrying just pyjamas and a toothbrush, he bursts through Moses Aloetta’s door only to find Moses and his friends already soured on city life. Will the London fog dampen Galahad’s dreams? Or will these Lonely Londoners make a home in a city that sees them as a threat?

Tobi Bakare – LEWIS
Gamba Cole – MOSES
Shannon Hayes – AGNES
Gilbert Kyem Jnr – BIG CITY
Carol Moses – TANTY
Aimee Powell – CHRISTINA
Romario Simpson – GALAHAD

The Lonely Londoners

29 FEBRUARY – 6 APRIL 2024