Standing ovation for Wolsey premiere

Joe Guy by Roy Williams. New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich (until Saturday, October 20)At a time when England's overpaid footballers - the soccer variety - made us parrot-sick, there comes a new Roy Williams play which uses football celebrity to examine, among other things, aspirations and tensions within the black community.

Joe Guy by Roy Williams. New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich (until Saturday, October 20)

At a time when England's overpaid footballers - the soccer variety - made us parrot-sick, there comes a new Roy Williams play which uses football celebrity to examine, among other things, aspirations and tensions within the black community.

Joe, dynamically played by Abdul Salis, is a young black British football superstar, a vulnerable figure catapulted to iconic status because of his extraordinary sporting talents.

The play starts from at a ritzy hotel suite interview with a young newshound. He's expecting adulation; she wants a ditching-the-dirt scoop. Roy Williams leads us through the events of his short career, showing us the arguments for and against his behaviour.


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Football may be the focus, but the issues are much wider. On the one there is the corrupting influence of celebrity, with everyone - the clubs, the agents, the high- lifers, the would-be wags - wanting a slice of the bounty.

I remember being told by a current top manager, whom I won't name, about the nightmare task of keeping a nineteen-year-old with thousands a week in his pocket on the straight and narrow. Not that much sympathy is owed the lad, you can argue. Our concern should be more with those without the thousands.

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There's the booze, the drugs, the high life and the not unfamiliar incidents of rape allegations and arrest. For some it's a downhill path. Williams gives us an inside glimpse.

More fascinating, because I knew little about it, is Williams's powerful portrayal of the underlying tensions between the British African and Caribbean communities. The play's director, Ferni Elufowoju Jr, himself says there's an 'antagonism that people don't talk about'. We see it in the mockery Joe suffers when, before fame gets to him, he serves behind a burger counter. We see it in the locker room, in the failed relationship with his girlfriend, Naomi (Syan Blake), who's of Jamaican origin, and we see it in Joe's denial of his Ghanaian background in order to be cool.

It's a fast-moving, action-packed play done on an exciting black and white set

from Tiata Fahodzi, the British African Theatre Company now in its tenth anniversary year.

No punches are pulled, the language is colourful, the emotions high. It brought much of the world première night audience, gratifyingly with many young people in it, to its feet in appreciation.

Ivan Howlett

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