Review: #Haters, Rich Mix

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*Originally written for A Younger Theatre*

#Haters tells the true story of a stabbing in Hackney in 2014 and the internet furore that occurred in its wake. It tells it through two male characters who embody the cultural clash (‘gentrification’) that has been so heavily covered in the media recently (Cereal Killer Cafe protests). One is a white, aspiring pub owner newly arrived in London from Yorkshire. Of course, his real dream is to own a music venue to put on gigs. But running a pub is the first big step – with huge loans to kickstart the project and a taste for fine gin. He has the ‘hipster’ uniform (beard, checked shirt, braces) to suit. Accompanying them, are three female vocalists who voice the social media chimeras occurring around the events. They sing lyrics such as “like like, like like like” and “2,000 invited, 800 attending”. Many in the audience found these hilarious but I found them slightly irritating.

The other is a black teenager, Tyrese (Josh Okusanya), who has grown up in Hackney and is trying to get along well in life, but who might nick something every now and again. Mostly though, he just wants to get laid, avoid his older brother, and circumvent the wrath of his mother. Okusanya’s impersonation of the latter was astutely comical and provided much needed character-based comedy in the second half.

Jamie (Greg Snowden) enters with graphically bloodied hands, which sometimes makes his gestures awkward and unnatural. It’s meant to show how each side is both culpable and vulnerable; Tyrese later comes on with equally bloody hands. Jamie holds the fort for the first half. He uses spoken word, directly addressed to the audience, to explain the ins and outs of his indie pub business adventures and the pressures working towards opening night. The overuse of the term “hipster” to describe him was somewhat jarring and even a little outmoded. He seemed like a caricature of the flat-white-entrepreneur without being likeable or particularly amusing. The chorus from the girls provided entertaining enough internet commentaries but the vocals were never particularly inspiring.

The second half picked up the pace, after the two cultures have clashed in a lift on the ‘posh side’ of the building where both Jamie and Tyrese live. Jamie performs some horribly stereotyped greetings, unsure how to relate to Tyrese. But eventually they share some home brewed 70% liquor and one of Tyrese’s spliffs, which he’d stashed in the lift. The awkwardness and then reconciliation on a human level made a worthy interrogation of the issues surrounding regeneration and gentrification of city spaces. Okusanya excelled when he took to the stage alone as a spoken word artist. His impersonations of those surrounding him in everyday life – his brother, mother, girls, friends – were on point and very entertaining. The vocalists came into their own as his sassy friends and flirty girls in a club.

The force of the final scene – where the pub opening and a stabbing conflate in a dramatic finale – was emotionally effecting. As a commentary on the futility and brutality of knife crime among young people, it was heart wrenching, particularly as we had come to know the innocence of the victim and the seemingly petty motivation for the attack. Okusanya’s bewildered state contrasted absurdly with Jamie’s high-energy spiel about the notes in a certain gin and shmoozing with the pub’s opening night clientele. This for me was where the heart of the story was held; the social media backing vocals were not developed enough to tie-in completely with that story.

#Haters played at Rich Mix on Friday 11 December.  For more information, see the Rich Mix website.