Estimated reading time:8 minutes, 29 seconds
‘Boy’ at the Almeida is a ground-breaking show about what it feels like coming of age in austerity Britain. The play, written by Leo Butler, has a 27-strong cast of which 16¬†are making their stage debut, including an 18-year-old student from Islington, Duramaney Kamara. Interview by Nicola Baird
Duramaney Kamara is very different from Boy‚Äôs lost central character, Liam ‚Äď and perhaps that‚Äôs no surprise when he admits that his mum was on stage when she was nine months pregnant, making him able to say ‚Äúhe was on stage before he was born!‚ÄĚ. In fact it‚Äôs Duramaney, playing¬†Lamari, who has just enough interest in track suited-Liam to give him a proper telling off (no one else seems to notice Liam). But as Duramaney wisely points out, ‚Äúeverything Lamari tells Liam he is saying to himself‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ
The play has a host of characters Londoners will recognise – from mobile-addicted schoolgirls waiting for the bus home to non-English speaking road workers ‚Äď so in his debut Duramaney also plays a teenage son in the doctor‚Äôs reception, toilet attendant, person in the crowd and Sainsbury‚Äôs worker.
It‚Äôs clear he‚Äôs chuffed to be on stage in his home borough, Islington. ‚ÄúBecause it‚Äôs my first time on stage I thought doing the same thing every night I‚Äôd find boring. But it‚Äôs not! It‚Äôs new every night. It‚Äôs like life ‚Äď you can‚Äôt get bored of life because you are living it,‚ÄĚ he explains.
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‚ÄúWe had 13 hour rehearsals,‚ÄĚ says Duramaney explaining why it‚Äôs been so hard organise this interview when we meet on a Thursday lunchtime over an orange juice in the Almeida Caf√©. For him life could be considered a bit less busy now that he is just doing a show every night at the same time as finishing off his final A level year studying Drama & Theatre Studies, Music and Music Tech at City and Islington College‚Ä¶
Duramaney lives with his mum and dad, both professional singers/musicians, just off Essex Road. He‚Äôs born and bred Islington: his early years were spent at Clerkenwell where he went to Clerkenwell Parochial Primary School on Amwell Street. ‚ÄúIn year 3 or 4 we done a play at Little Angel,‚ÄĚ says Duramaney. ‚ÄúWe all had puppets and then my dad said I should do some drumming. I was shy but I did it‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ
In fact Duramaney¬†was only four years old when a bloke in a pub predicted he‚Äôd make a great trumpet player. ‚ÄúI was sitting in the Three Kings Pub, opposite St James‚Äô Church, when someone gave me a cornet (a very basic trumpet) to hold. I started playing around with it and getting a sound,‚ÄĚ he says, ‚Äúso they got me a trumpet.‚ÄĚ
Duramaney really likes to sing and MC, and as with all the instruments Duramaney plays ‚Äď trumpet, piano, keyboard, guitar and percussion – he‚Äôs self-taught. ‚ÄúI tend to use my ears and then see if I can play it back,‚ÄĚ he explains. His mum Basha Letsididi, a singer, originally from Botswana, taught him how to read music, but ‚ÄúI only recently started doing grades ‚Äď I got a distinction in Grade 3 trumpet,‚ÄĚ says Duramaney understandably proudly. He‚Äôs also had support from Richard Frostick from Islington Music Centre and his music teachers James Hunter at Bishop Douglass in Barnet, where he went to secondary school, and Jack Davis at City & Islington College, praising them both for ‚Äúbuilding my confidence.‚ÄĚ
Music is a huge part of Duramaney‚Äôs life ‚Äď after the show, and after his summer exams he hopes to spend a gap year doing¬†“voice acting as well as other acting jobs” and¬†working on his music projects. For now he has to be content with, ‚ÄúOur house being full of music. It‚Äôs either me playing my stuff ‚Äď I listen to a lot of jazz, John Coltrane, Fela Kuti (from Nigeria) and I also play a lot of Bob Marley, Curtis Mayfield and perhaps oddly for a teenager I like classical music. Mum will be singing or rehearsing and Dad is either fixing or playing drums‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ
The play‚Äôs the thing
Boy is a bleak play, it‚Äôs had 4* and 5* reviews, but it is an uncompromising view of the struggles many poorly educated white British teenage boys find themselves in, and is as relevant to Islington as to Crystal Palace where the writer Leo Butler lives. Most of the play revolves around life at a bus stop using an ingenious moving travelator (like they have in Yo Sushi and airports). There are moments ‚Äď especially the start ‚Äď which are very funny, but the overall impression is that Liam hasn‚Äôt a chance. So Islington Faces was curious if Duramaney knew any Liams, and what he thought of the show‚Äôs Liam‚Ä¶
‚ÄúI do like Liam. At a point in life everyone can be a Liam. There‚Äôs a lot of pressure and you have to hide it. Some people grow up without a healthy household and they have to grow up fast. With teenagers it‚Äôs all down to peer pressure. People need to prove something to someone to get a thumbs up from their peer group. If you look at gang culture, there‚Äôs pressure from someone older to do something for that thumbs up. Other people get that thumbs up for getting an A grade,‚ÄĚ he says.
‚ÄúFor Liam he‚Äôs got no guidance. Even his vocabulary is really diminished ‚Äď he repeats what other people say. It‚Äôs heart-breaking the way he looks to other people,‚ÄĚ explains Duramaney.
Liam is the teenage boy who has fallen through every safety net. Even if most of the audience longs to help him find the resilience to clamber back up, Cameron‚Äôs Britain is unforgiving. You‚Äôve got to get on and make it when the odds are so stacked against you ‚Äď with minimal support from parents who may well be separated, working Zero Hour contracts, dealing with mental health issues or completely distracted by money and housing problems.
Places Duramaney Kamara likes in Islington
“Islington is supposed to be a prestigious borough, but the crime rate shows otherwise.”
- Angel is a big hub for me. Everything is there and it‚Äôs a nice place to go. We eat at Bombay Burrito on 357 Goswell Road and Nandos at 324 Upper Street. Five Guys, 71 Upper Street, is expensive but there are some nice pizza shops.
- Rosemary Gardens on the Islington-Hackney border is a nice place.
- I like Union Chapel. I sang there with the Islington Music Centre choir. Great acoustics!
- The Almeida is nice. I did a workshop last year with the college at the Almeida, during Oresteia, which was really brilliant.
- You can go anywhere from Essex Road ‚Äď I found this out on the day before my 18th party day and I realised there were buses for everyone. There‚Äôs the 38 to Victoria, 73 to Oxford Street, 56 to Leytonstone, 476 to Tottenham, 21 to Lewisham and the 76 to London Bridge‚Ä¶
Duramaney has a very different energy to Liam or the characters he plays in Boy, and he‚Äôs clear that‚Äôs because: ‚ÄėI‚Äôve been taught by my parents to be independent and not to rely on anyone else.‚ÄĚ But he admits he felt undermined by not getting a place at the Brit School, the Guildhall or the Royal Academy of Music. Thankfully he‚Äôs also finding that overcoming adversity can make you stronger ‚Äď ‚ÄúI‚Äôve learnt that there‚Äôs always a way,‚ÄĚ he says with a big smile explaining how he hopes to study at Leeds College of Music‚Ä¶ and, just for the record, a class of Brit School students (who would have been in his year) have come to see Boy at the Almeida.
It‚Äôs an interesting irony that such a bleak play should be giving Duramaney Kamara – and so many talented young actors including Frankie Fox who plays the lead, Liam – such a great opportunity to perform on as famous a stage as the Almeida. And you can join in too by coming to the young people’s panel event on Thursday 5 May, from 6pm, to discuss the ideas raised in Boy.
‚ÄĘ Find out more about Duramaney Kamara via soundcloud
‚ÄĘ Thursday 5 May, 6pm come to a panel for young people exploring the ideas raised in Boy.¬†It‚Äôs free and can be booked online – http://www.almeida.co.uk/whats-on/answers-back/5-may-2016
‚ÄĘ Facebook /almeidatheatre Twitter @AlmeidaTheatre
‚ÄĘ Boy by Leo Butler is at Almedia Theatre until 28 May. Sign up to the email list at almeida.co.uk
Over to you
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