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Review: King Hamlin, Park Theatre - important issues are drowned out

King Hamlin at the Park Theatre starts before it begins with three teenage boys joshing around; it's noisy and boisterous with an undercurrent of tension.

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Kiza Deen and Harris Cain in King Hamlin, Park Theatre, October 2022. Photo: Steve Gregson

When the play formally starts, Hamlin (Harris Cain) is having a nightmare about being late for a job interview. He wants to help his mum (Kiza Deen), who has just lost her job and can't get benefits for five weeks.

They have a good relationship, and Hamlin wants to finish college, go to university and become a software engineer.

But circumstances start to conspire against him. His mum can't afford wifi, he doesn't have a laptop, and he's losing out on job opportunities because he can't work from home.

Added to this, the area he lives in is rife with gangs, making it a dangerous place to be as a young male.

There is an element of pride in that Hamlin doesn't want to work in a supermarket but do something that is less manual - and paid better.

Would it have mattered if he had got any old job?

His friend Quinn (Inaam Barwani) is, by his own admission and his behaviour, not cut out for studying and college but has a proposition for Hamlin which could help solve his money issues.

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Andrew Evans, Harris Cain and Inaam Barwani in King Hamlin, Park Theatre, October 2022. Photo: Steve Gregson

Aside from the fact that it isn't exactly a legitimate way of making money, the problem is that it means joining Nic (Andrew Evans), whose ambitions lean towards gang leadership.

It's the second play I've seen recently that explores a slow indoctrination from a good person to bad behaviour. The first was set in Germany in the run-up to the second world war; in this, it's about gang and knife culture. 

Hamlin initially resists, determined to stay away from a culture he detests but eventually finds himself seduced by what it offers.  

Cain's Hamlin is bright, considered and kind, and his worries are almost painful to watch.

The problem is Quin and Nic, neither of whom seems particularly smart in fact, they seem almost comically dim. It makes Hamlin's choices seem less convincing, particularly as Nic is supposed to be intimidating but is mainly just loud.

There is no Quinn and Nic in a scene without shouting and a shrill boisterousness. When actors always have the amp turned up to 11, it means there is nowhere for them to go, and it gets a little tedious to watch.

The result is a play which has its serious and important subject matter drowned out. In the end, I wanted much less of Quinn and Nic and more of Hamlin and his mum.

I'm giving King Hamlin ⭐️⭐️ and a half.

King Hamlin, Park Theatre

Written by Gloria Williams

Directed by Lara Genovese

Running time 1 hour 50 minutes plus interval

Booking until 12 November, visit the Park Theatre website for more details and to buy tickets.

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