views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Greene Card
The Space
17th September 2014


Sevan K Greene as Sevan Greene

Photography © Makenzie Whittle Photography

As the UK reacts to the news of a 45/55 split in Scotland's independence referendum, it's pretty clear that national identity is on everyone's minds at the moment. What defines us? Where we grew up, who our parents are, where we choose to live? Well, the more complicated your background, the harder it is to really decide. Now, I may not have escaped from a war zone, but being mixed race, I can empathise with Sevan Greene's struggle to identify with any one country and to feel "at home" anywhere.

For Sevan (Greene playing himself in this true-life musical tale), it initially seems like the US of A is where it's at. He opens with a Little Mermaid parody ("I wanna be where Americans are...") setting the tone for the story to follow. There are some shocking moments, powerfully so, but director Daniel Huntley Solon tries to keep this as upbeat as possible whenever Greene isn't talking about being racism and bombs going off.

Truth is often stranger than fiction, and part of why The Greene Card is so compelling is because it's a factual account. We hear of how Sevan flees Kuwait during the Gulf War, ending up in his beloved America and finally, my beloved London. Having never seen race as an issue, Sevan realises he's "growing up a brown boy in a white world". After becoming involved in the American theatre scene, it's a crushing disappointment to end up type cast in "brown roles". A little ironic then, and surely not lost on him, that he's cast himself as the ultimate other here.

Of course, the other reason why the production is so successful is because of the vocal talent. Greene is supported by Hiba Elchikhe, Michael Mahony and Shannon Ashleigh Navarro who play his three closest confidantes as well as every other character Sevan encounters. They all hit a number of tricky notes with ease and also switch between accents with the same effortlessness, navigating the different parts. There is a tendency to overdo some of the vocals, with far too many trills, but this is probably the American influence on the piece.

Hiba Elchikhe, Shannon Ashleigh Navarro and Michael Mahony as Lakeisha, Shantiqua and Dramatrice

Photography © Makenzie Whittle Photography

I don't know whether the intention behind the casting was to try to match the figures from real life, but I love that all four protagonists have very different looks. Greene is dressed in a Mork and Mindy T-shirt (not so much subtext as text) Elchikhe is channelling Amy Winehouse, Navarro towers above the rest in confidently tight clothes she knows she can pull off and Mahony is dressed in a dark shirt and jeans, nowhere near as attention-seeking as the rest. They come across as a rag-tag bunch of mates, who may be diverse but yet manage to find some common ground. It may be an obvious message, but it's warming nonetheless.

I've always adored the versatility of The Space and this time, it's set up cabaret style. There are tables on the main floor dressed with cloths and tea lights, and the raised stage houses a full band. Musical director Colm O'Regan leads the band on piano, with Arthur Newell on drums, Brendan O'Connor on guitar and Jonny Wickham on bass. In recent months I've seen a lot of companies try to cram musicians into inappropriately tiny places, but with the height of the theatre, the acoustics work really well.

Solon makes use of the arch for projection, and also gets the actors to call out from the balcony. With sound coming from all around us, we feel as overwhelmed as Sevan. The Space doesn't have the most traditional layout for a dedicated theatre, but it's always had a lot of charm and here, Solon exploits every little quirk to its full potential. I may not have felt Buttons was suited to The Space, but The Greene Card certainly is. It's a well-considered choice for a transfer.

At 100 minutes long, this is a fascinating story told through some very polished acting and song. There's certainly no chance of Greene being shown a red card, hopefully he'll stick around in London and share more with us.

The Greene Card opened on 16th September and runs until 20th September 2014 at The Space.

Nearest tube station: Mudchute (DLR)

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