Michaela Coel already has an extremely impressive CV. First known as a poet, then a singer and musician, she graduated from Guildhall School of Music and Drama just a few months ago, the recipient of a 2011 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Student Actress and heralded as a future star. It's no surprise then that her new monologue, Chewing Gum Dreams, was chosen to open RADAR2012.
Written by Coel and directed by Che Walker, Chewing Gum Dreams takes us into the life and thoughts of 14 year old Tracey. Stories of maths lessons, the number 67 bus and school-yard crushes are told in the same breath as domestic violence, threats of rape, and racial prejudice, reminding us that all of these are part of everyday life for Tracey. She is such a warm, fun and naively innocent character that it hurts to see her go through what she does, to suffer and then to carry on with a smile. Coel imbues Tracey with such energy and humour that sudden silence and stillness is intimidating and reinforces the gravity of the situations affecting Tracey.
Chewing Gum Dreams is an involving, intimate piece, which proves that theatre doesn't need epic drama, or expensive sets and costumes. With nothing but a chair, some UK garage, a handful of real life, every day experiences and a lot of heart, Coel thoroughly captivates the audience, makes us laugh, moves us, and challenges race and class preconceptions. In a recent blog post for the Bush Theatre (How do we imagine a more diverse and accessible theatrical landscape?), Coel argues that it is up to writers to create characters that people who don't usually go to the theatre can relate to. Through bringing under-represented characters and locations to the stage, Coel proves that this is not the threat to traditional theatre that some reactionaries would have us believe, but rather a source of absorbing characters and affecting situations, the key ingredients of any successful play.