Elba's the boss on both sides of the camera: Actor to debut as a director in morality tale movie about a North London drug dealer
Film-maker and actor Idris Elba goes behind the camera on Monday to direct his first feature movie.
Yardie is a major project about a Jamaican gangsta out to crack the cocaine market in North London — but Elba wants it to be a morality tale, not a glamorising piece.
He has picked Aml Ameen — a British actor who has worked on both sides of the Atlantic in films such as Kidulthood and The Maze Runner — to play the lead role of D, a small-time dealer who slips into London from Kingston, Jamaica, on a fake passport.
Gangsta roles: Idris Elba (left) and his star in Yardie, Ami Ameen
He hatches a plan to emulate the other drug kingpins, and then take over their territory, using a campaign of cold-blooded terror.
There’s a powerful exchange in the film’s source material (the cult novel of the same name by Victor Headley) where D meets Piper, a sage Rastafarian who bemoans the fact that the streets of London are flowing with blood because the calculating D wants to remove all rivals and enemies. Permanently.
It’s D’s way of doing business. But Piper, speaking in Jamaican patois, questions D’s methods: ‘One time, if two man have a quarrel, dem would fight it out with dem strength.
‘At the worst, one would get cut up but not’ing more. Nowadays, it’s pure killing.’
It’s noteworthy that Elba is playing Piper, a man trying to eschew violence.
And it’s of further significance that the project — set in the Eighties — is being made at a time of worsening turf violence in certain districts of London.
Elba and his collaborators at Warp Films, StudioCanal and BBC Films, have cast some superb young actors. They include Naomi Ackie — who appears alongside Florence Pugh in the acclaimed BFI movie Lady Macbeth; Duramaney Kamara, who was in Leo Butler’s play Boy at the Almeida Theatre last year; Anthony Foster, who was in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Haymarket (as well as Elba’s music video, Unstoppable); and Calvin Demba, sublime in Patrick Marber’s play, Red Lion, at the National two years back.
Shantol Jackson will play D’s ‘Baby mama’.
Elba will take his Yardie cast and crew to shoot on locations in Jamaica in late June.
Pinocchio should be far from wooden...
He’s got no strings, but Joe Idris-Roberts will still be playing the title role in Pinocchio, the musical based on the classic Walt Disney film, which is being directed at the National Theatre by John Tiffany — the man who also put Harry Potter on the stage.
Idris-Roberts played the mischievous marionette in some workshops Tiffany put on in recent weeks that were designed to see which bits of the show, written by Dennis Kelly, worked and which were, well, wooden.
Joe Idris-Roberts will be playing the title role in Pinocchio. The musical is based on the classic Walt Disney film (right)
The National declined to comment about Idris-Roberts’s casting in the musical, which will begin performances at the Lyttelton Theatre on December 1, and feature such great songs as Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee and When You Wish Upon A Star from the movie, plus numbers from the Disney back catalogue.
But I heard folks left the workshops giving a little whistle.
Hello sailors! The rocking rival that will make waves
Director and choreographer Drew McOnie said some people think — wrongly — that On The Town is a period piece. But the 70-year-old musical was certainly not showing its age during rehearsals in the East End this week.
‘When the show came out in 1945, the creators were young,’ McOnie explained, referring to Jerome Robbins (the choreographer), Leonard Bernstein (who wrote the score) and Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who penned the book and lyrics.
‘I wanted to create something that feels as immediate as the original,’ he told me after I watched his cast — including Danny Mac, Fred Haig, Samuel Edwards, Siena Kelly, Lizzy Connolly and Miriam-Teak Lee — being put through their paces in some exhilarating dance routines.
Exhilarating: The cast of musical On The Town strike a pose during rehersals
These included the opening number where three sailors (Mac, Haig and Edwards), who haven’t had female company for heaven knows how long, go on shore leave in search of girls on Manhattan.
‘You’ve got three, puppy-like sailors — all in white — and the women have a wonderful time corrupting them,’ McOnie observed.
Connolly, as Hildy the female taxi-driver, saucily begs Chip (Haig) to ‘Come Up To My Place’.
‘It’s very current: she’s not being wooed — she’s wooing him!’ Connolly told me, while mentioning something about dating sites Tinder and Bumble.
‘It’s great to portray these strong women,’ agreed Ms Lee, who plays Claire, an anthropologist.
Ms Kelly said her character, Ivy, is seen ‘as a cute little girl’. But, she insisted: ‘Ivy’s no damsel in distress!’
Where’s a guy to go after that? Along with the women, obviously.
Mac said the three servicemen discover that, in New York, the women are wearing the trousers. ‘They’ve been running the town!’ he said.
He also made the (valid) point that, in letting off steam during their shore leave, the friends are celebrating the fact that they’re still alive.
Edwards added that the visit changes the men. His character, Ozzie, boasts initially that he wants to be with eight women. ‘But he’s shown that there’s more to life; and he goes away to war with a sense of real love in his heart.’
Or, as Haig put it, sometimes ‘plans fall by the wayside in the most wonderful way’.
Then he used the phrase ‘maximum enjoyment’.
That’s pretty much what I felt just watching that rehearsal. The real thing will begin performances at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park on May 19.
Colin Morgan — Merlin in the BBC’s hit series, will star with Ellie Kendrick (Meera in Game Of Thrones), Sian Clifford, Bayo Gbadamosi and Kae Alexander in Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s blistering drama Gloria, which is being directed by Michael Longhurst at Hampstead Theatre from June 15.
Jacobs-Jenkins has a keen eye for human behaviour (he studied anthropology at Princeton). And Gloria, which is set in the airless office of a New York-based magazine, is a closely observed shocker about what can go wrong in a hothouse environment.
Watch out for...?
Colm Meaney, who will play Tennessee Williams’s crude cotton king Big Daddy Pollitt in the much-anticipated production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, which Benedict Andrews will direct in the West End for The Young Vic.
It’s already been announced (in this column!) that Sienna Miller will play Big Daddy’s savvy daughter-in-law, Maggie the Cat; and Jack O’Connell will play Brick, her handsome but emotionally crippled husband.
Colm Meaney will play Tennessee Williams’s crude cotton king Big Daddy Pollitt
This revival of Williams’s 1955 study of how Big Daddy’s predatory family prowl and maul each other, in anticipation of their inheritance, runs at the Apollo on Shaftesbury Avenue from July 13 until October 7.
Big Daddy is such a deliciously boastful role. Ned Beatty played him in Anthony Page’s 2001 production — I can still hear him licking his lips and declaring that he owned ‘28,000 acres of the richest land this side of the valley Nile’.
Sienna Miller will play Big Daddy’s savvy daughter-in-law, Maggie the Cat; and Jack O’Connell will play Brick, her handsome but emotionally crippled husband?
Nina Raine’s searing, must-see play Consent, which finishes a successful run in the National’s Dorfman Theatre on Wednesday — and is likely to transfer into the West End in the autumn. Raine’s drama (it had me on the edge of my seat a few times) is about sexual assault, adultery, London lawyers — and many other things — and when I caught up with it, there were brilliant performances from Anna Maxwell Martin, Ben Chaplin , Adam James, Priyanga Burford, Pip Carter, Heather Craney and Daisy Haggard.
Director Roger Michell; plus Out Of Joint’s chief Max Stafford-Clark and producer Karl Sydow (it’s a co-production with the NT) are hoping that as many of the company can transfer as possible.
It’s one of the hottest new plays of the year; and if you’ve seen it, and are wondering if I blushed at that moment, I did. And then I laughed. It’s that kind of show.
Anna Maxwell Martin and Ben Chaplin in 'Consent' directed by Roger Mitchell
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