Boy in da Korma review – Jermyn Street Theatre, London ★★★★☆

Photo: Jack Sain

Jaisal Marmion’s new coming-of-age play, Boy in Da Korma, follows mixed-race teenager Liam, the only brown boy in the West Cork village of Skiberrean. Living in a single-parent household with his mother and grandfather, he’s trying to make sense of his place in the world and the only thing he seems sure of is that he is the reincarnation of American rapper Tupac Shakur.

He plans to find fame through rapping, even if his first gig at the local pub’s open mic night doesn’t go to plan, and sets his sights on the annual Cork’s Got Talent contest as his big break. You see he’s “coming out of Skiberrean with that real gangster craic.” But getting there won’t be plain sailing: he needs to navigate the choppy waters of growing up ‘different’ in rural Ireland where the bullies target his race and his growing belief that he really is Tupac.

Marmion’s plot-line could be straight out of a Richard Curtis film, if Curtis ever chose to look outside of the white middle classes for ideas. The only thing missing from Marmion’s plot is a love interest. But music is the real love here; while Liam loves Tupac, his Mum only has ears for Van Morrison and his grandfather plays the cornet and used to sing traditional songs in sessions at the pub with his mates. Now though, his friends have died and he’s found himself being cared for by Liam and his mum.

Photo: Jack Sain

Marmion brings a warm tenderness to Liam and his grandfather’s relationship and he plays the older man with great empathy. The Sailor’s Bonnet by The Gloaming floats in the background of their exchanges, capturing the nostalgic air of the past that surrounds the older man. Music is at the heart of everything. It’s incredibly well acted too, with Marmion providing Liam with charisma and charm in his private moments and a nervous demeanour in his public interactions.

There’s impressive use of projection by video and projection designer Douglas Baker, adding an extra dimension to Jermyn Street Theatre’s intimate space that uses the same utilitarian set design for each of the six plays at Footprints Festival, whilst Marmion’s original music and raps suggests he might want to try out in front of Louis Walsh himself. With real heart and a message of hope, this is a wonderful story, brilliantly told.

Boy in da Korma is at Jermyn Street Theatre until 26 January 2024 as part of Footprints Festival 2024

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