Writer: Annie Jenkins
Director: Jack Nurse
Annie Jenkins’ hugely entertaining 24 (Day) The Measure of My Dreams is the first in the Almeida’s planned trilogy of plays bringing together local artists, close to 100 community performers, and theatre professionals to explore life, love, and death in the north London borough of Islington. Set on the day local heroes Arsenal face a key Premier League play-off, the show weaves comedy, music, and pathos into a kind of surreal road-trip around the locality. Anticipate audience interaction, in-jokes about Arsène Wenger, and dancing cheerleaders.
It is not looking set to be a great day for lippy, loud-mouthed grandmother Liz (Jean Woollard whose first stage appearance was back in 1965). She has a cancer scan booked at the local hospital, her best friend’s funeral to attend, and a visit to her husband’s care home in store. There is a deeply touching version of ‘90s talent show Stars in Their Eyes set at the care home – expect versions of Shirley Bassey, Chubby Checker, and Frank Sinatra to make an appearance.
Liz’s mid-twenties grandson Mark (Kwami Odoom, the only other professional actor onstage) also has a bleak day due. His relationship with grieving girlfriend Elle has collapsed, he has a tough taxi exam to pass, his grandad’s old black cab is playing up, and his boss is threatening to sack him unless he finally meets his delivery targets. Oh, and his beloved soccer team just cannot afford to lose today’s fixture.
Determined to take their minds off separate woes, Liz joins Mark on his Amazon round. Chaotic parcel drops ensue, with visits on route to, amongst others, a fading pop star, a drag queen, musicians, and a philandering husband. There is a dreamlike quality to these beautifully crafted vignettes of London life, even if the harsh reality of Mark’s work life (a target of one drop every three minutes) is never far from the surface.
A mechanical break-down sees local football supporters push Mark’s taxi to the pub. Secrets emerge, Liz and her grandson come to metaphorical blows, and the duo make their separate way to a local bowling alley. The show’s second half weaves laugh-out-loud farce with song, has some wry comments to make on the challenges of getting past club bouncers, and sees much of the action takes place in the ladies toilets.
What makes 24 (Day) The Measure of My Dreams so effective is not just the strong storyline and immensely witty writing, it is Jenkin’s extraordinary gift for creating comic characters that are north London through-and-through, but also universally recognisable. Jan and Janice, gloriously bitchy black-clad funeral-goers, spend much of the wake bad-mouthing fellow mourners. There are guru-like toilet attendants, a luciferous radiographer, and the funeral memorial choir offers up a jaw-droppingly inappropriate rendition of Titanic’s My Heart Will Go On. Club DJ Lardon, a vision in pink and fake moustache, emits porcine snorts and demands the audience bellow “Can you smell the bacon?”.
Show-stealing diva Eugine, who leads the pom-pom-carrying cheerleader troop, comprehensively out-camps and out-glams Ru Paul. They demand Liz help them out with a “dyke dilemma” that is threatening to derail the troop’s bowling ability. The dilemma in question reveals deliciously sniffy (and entirely accurate) Islington attitudes towards those sad unfortunates living south of the river Thames.
Jack Nurse’s direction is tremendous, as is Zara Nunn’s cleverly chosen music: Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff makes for a magnificent choral homage to Arsenal.
At its heart, this is a show about the importance of love, family, community, and the need to belong. It has flaws. Is it 45 minutes too long? Yes. Do the community cast occasionally fluff lines and miss cues? Indubitably, indeed there are times when nobody on or off-stage seems to know quite what is going on. Does any of this matter? Not a whit. This is a funny, delightful, and exuberant slice of North London joy.
Runs until 5 August 2023
The Reviews Hub Score.
Funny, delightful, and exuberant.