Review: Gangsta Baby, Hope Theatre

Gangsta Baby offers a fractured and fascinating view of queer life from a different perspective at the Hope Theatre

“Kissing is extra, posh boy”

Life as a sex worker in Hastings is tough but Junior is making it work, having hit on a rugby-shirted particular niche that unexpectedly plays to his strengths. For there’s multitudes hidden beneath his muscular depths, complications that are rudely thrust to the surface when his estranged father bursts through the door to interrupt all his attentive work in getting a client off in his latest session. Mitch’s blue balls turn out to be the least of his problems…

For Senior is deeply involved in the criminal scene on the south coast, a full-on gun-wielding gangster as it turns out, and he’s not happy. Such is the world of Cameron Raasdal-Munro’s Gangsta Baby, a kaleidoscopic look what life on the other side of the tracks can look like, especially for queer kids, and how difficult it can be to chase away the shadow of violence once it has entered your world, even if – and especially if – it arrives indirectly.

Raasdal-Munro plays Junior with an enormous, explosive physicality, the protective shell we see that he’s had to evolve, but also layers in an emotive quality that speaks to the inner self he yearns to release. This is tapped into beautifully in scenes with his best pal Pete, a trans street artist with the biggest heart and their friendship feels like the realest thing here, credit to their chemistry and Julian Brett’s quietly powerful performance.

As a writer, Raasdal-Munro is clearly full of ideas and it feels like most of them are here in Gangsta Baby, from fractured narratives, switches to direct address, even audience participation. Director Rikki Beadle-Blair marshals the material well but the relatively loose energy of the production is only intermittently effective, the many scene transitions leaching some of the intensity and psychological acuity being built up, particularly in the exploration of Senior’s character (Nicholas Clarke).

Grimly fascinating then, as Raasdal-Munro clearly has much of interest to say, not least in his much-needed alternative perspective to many of the queer stories being told on London stages.

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