Preview: Random

A modern play about knife crime pairs up with a 50-year-old Yorkshire classic to show the parallels between vulnerable teenagers then and now

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“Never trouble trouble until trouble troubles you,” is the motto of the West Indian family at the centre of Debbie Tucker Green’s 2008 play Random. The one-woman show follows the minutiae of the family’s everyday domestic life until one of them becomes the victim of a seemingly random knife attack.

New figures last month revealed that deaths among young people under 20 are at their highest since 2007-08, when Random was first written and performed. The number of deaths from knife crime in 2018 rose 10 per cent from the previous year to 276. In England and Wales there were 42,957 recorded offences involving a knife or sharp instrument in the year ending September 2018.

The highest rates after London last year were in West Yorkshire, where the play is now being staged by director Gbolahan Obisesan. Kiza Deen (pictured), known for her role as DCI Naomi Silva in Silent Witness and Sonia Albright in Hollyoaks, shape-shifts throughout the production into all the roles, including Sister, Brother, Mum, Dad and Teacher.

“She has the depth to understand the range of emotions required to make Random resonate with audiences and be affected by her performance,” says the director, adding that Deen blew him away in audition. “She connected with the world of the play, found a voice for the characters and showcased her talents and intuition as an actor.”

A previous Genesis Fellow and associate director of the Young Vic Theatre, Obisesan’s credits include Cuttin’ It, a play exploring FGM in Britain, and he received critical acclaim for his performance as Dr Martin Luther King Jr in The Mountaintop.

“Random is unique in how it explores the human experience and emotional turmoil around the heartbreakingly social concern of knife crime. In the play we see the fragility and disorientation of a family’s experience of an unexpected incident. It’s an incredibly beautifully crafted play,” he says.

The 50-minute play is being performed in Leeds Playhouse’s pop-up theatre – the former West Yorkshire Playhouse is currently awaiting a new theatre building. Obisesan says it will be “invigorating for everyone”. It’s being staged alongside the quintessentially Yorkshire play Kes, which is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary.

“Experiencing the two parallel stories I imagine will feel like a 50-year juxtaposition of the lives of two different working-class teenagers,” says Obisesan on the drawing together of the two plays.

Kes follows Billy Casper, a boy from a local estate who lives with his mother and bully of a brother and feels totally alone until he finds a kestrel to train. “It is open for interpretation, but I would suggest both plays have complementary themes of isolation and the search for continual freedom from concern, and freedom of expression.

“Ultimately it is the voice and experience of relatable but vulnerable teenagers. In these two plays about young people in Britain, we can potentially see ourselves, our families and the risks we must try to eradicate as a society for the next generation.”

  Random is at the Leeds Playhouse pop-up theatre, 4-16 Feb. Kes runs until 16 Feb ( 

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