A Concrete Jungle Full of Wild Cars

Mon 5th – Sat 10th August 2013


Jack Graham

at 10:12 on 7th Aug 2013



A secret gift of a charm bracelet connects war-torn Sierra Leone to the Concrete Jungle of London, to where 13-year-old Zina and her siblings have fled. Their older brother has been taken as a child soldier in the Civil War and their parents are endangering their lives to find him. The play focuses on the children trying to acclimatise to life in England, whilst the connection to their homeland is ever-present.

Trinity College London’s production was intriguing and often effective in its exploration of these issues. Written by a student, Mariama Ives-Molba, the script showed some promise and there were engaging moments. As with much new writing, though, these ideas did not quite combine to create a finished product.

Most of the performances from this largely young cast were good. The main character, Zina (Sophia Thomas), was believable in her portrayal of a young girl coming to terms with new surroundings. Her personality was warm and endearing, especially in her naivety; at one point she excitedly asks her new English friend whether she has met the Queen.

The dialogue between Zina and her family members constituted the most successful parts of the play. There was nice chemistry between the siblings, especially between the sisters – Zina and Naima (Patience James Agbo). The latter played an older sister whose more cynical views were brought across subtly, creating a nice dynamic with Zina’s enthusiasm.

The standout performance, however, came from their Gran (Elizabeth Alabi). She had a strong African accent and even stronger charisma, including some very witty lines and a command of the stage. Alabi’s timing during her funny moments was brilliant, and when she is later let down by her grandchildren, we experience an understated aggressive side to her.

The set was very simple, consisting of a bench, but some atmosphere was created with the use of drums, singing, beautiful lines of poetry and a few moments of high quality African dance. The plot moved from London to Africa through these mediums, and the magic bracelet which Zina had received from her mum. With it she could see her brother with his weapon, being ordered by the sinister voice of a military commander.

My main problem with the play is the way in which it pursued many nice ideas without having time for enough focus, and their connections were not subtle enough. The cultural clash for Africans in London was often funny, but this put some restraint on the emotional impact of the family being split. There seemed to be some imbalance between these many light-hearted scenes and the brother’s kidnap, also leaving insufficient attention for the exploration of family tensions, as well as the bracelet which turned out to be key to the plot.

Overall, then, the production is very promising but fell short of being particularly tense or moving. However, the exploration of these kinds of ideas is exactly what the Fringe is about, and the play includes much to be applauded.


Matthew Davies

at 10:21 on 7th Aug 2013



At first glance, no two places could be more different than war-torn Sierra Leone and the London of the late 1990s. Yet it’s the latter which teenagers Zina, Naima and Kosey find themselves thrown into - a concrete jungle in which different cultures bleed into one another. Student playwright, Mariama Ives-Moiba, has created a work which skillfully navigates the cultures of Britain and Sierra Leone while remaining a joy to watch.

Music is the most prominent way in which Ives-Moiba draws out these cultural differences. The play opens with a traditional Sierra Leonian song before introducing us immediately to the modern-day and oh-so-familiar squabbles of the three siblings. The contrast is understated but powerful, and helps to illustrate the transnational, globalised world the characters inhabit. Other instances are more pronounced: at one point Zina asks the British-born Jasmine if she’s met the Queen. It’s moments of childlike naïveté such as these which make ‘A Concrete Jungle’ such a pleasure to watch. British and African cultures serve as counterpoints to one another, but above all else it’s the universal which is celebrated.

This effect is achieved not just through dialogue and music but in more obvious ways. Ives-Moiba is a master of ‘show, don’t tell,’ employing the supernatural to draw the play’s two worlds together in a very literal sense. Luckily, this doesn’t drown out the human element of the play: like the magic realism novels of Murakami or Rushdie, ‘A Concrete Jungle’ treats the occult in a matter-of-fact way which ensures that the plot is never caught up in mumbo-jumbo. Again we can see the subtext of cultural difference when at one point Zina undergoes a bizarre transformation, her friend Jasmine’s first instinct is to Google the symptoms on her phone.

It’s these moments, vignettes of human silliness and fallibility which ground the play, although they wouldn’t quite work if it wasn’t for the warmth and energy of the cast. Even those characters who aren’t, on paper, fully-featured human beings - the two football-obsessed teenage boys who attempt to flirt with Zina, for instance - are made compelling by the charisma of the (young, and almost uniformly female) cast and the script’s sense of humour. In particular, Sophia Thomas (who plays Zina) delivers a masterclass in how to wordlessly emote.

Many shows at the Fringe deal in high concept, and many more deal in the human and familiar. To its credit, ‘A Concrete Jungle’ manages both, and is definitely worth a watch for anyone interested in the topic - and even those who aren’t.


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