In Oldham, two teenage boys jump the fence into an old abandoned park; settling down to some cans and crisps, they hope to bide their time until the local skinheads disperse. Through their quick wit and teenage banter we get to know Mike and Hamed, friends who go to the same school, live streets apart - but who because of their different races, inhabit entirely different worlds. While at school they can barely acknowledge each other due to peer pressure, here they have the seclusion to really get to know each other. And we can listen in.
Hamed is happily out, accepted by his family and God - but discriminated against by the mosque, the police, and the worst of the white youths that stalk the city. He comes across as an old soul full of experience, quick wit and sarcasm. In sharp contrast, Mike is all doubt and self-hatred, so worried about how he feels he is unaware of the full extent of the prejudice his friend knows.
In a piece confined to one scene and a cast of two, the characters they play are vital, and it is a great credit to both actors and writers how well it is done. Though we never see outside the tiny park, we feel the waves of unrest and tension that toss and batter the boys and their world. Although we meet no one but the two lads, an intricate web of relationships unfolds. Set against the backdrop of the 2001 Oldham riots, this piece explores difficult topics with an easy humour and dialogue that feels completely natural.
My strongest criticism of the piece is that, while Mike undergoes a profound and sensitively done transformation, his friend’s character is relatively static. From the start Hamed is obviously much more at ease with his own identity, and I feel his character was used more as a sage advisor rather than fully exploring how his changing relationship with his friend affected him.
This is a well-pitched coming-of-age piece, set in a time when much of the audience would also have been at school, and drawing on conflicts that are sadly still just as relevant today. With fast-paced dialogue and well-rounded characters, it is easy to lose yourself in the world of a small, abandoned park in Oldham - and the two boys in it who struggle to be true to themselves, amidst the chaos and violence outside.