Review: Cadets

4*
By Dani Kolanis, at Camden People’s Theatre
(This production has now closed)

Dani Kolanis is a powerhouse of charisma and talent in this one-person comedic rollercoaster. Set in the world of borough cadets – yup, each London borough trains up its very own elite force of ‘youths’. Thing is Camden Cadets aren’t doing too well and keep losing the annual cadet competition – think assault courses, team building exercises and general mayhem. So the pressure’s on this year, 2010, and if they place last the Camden Cadets will be cut and they might just have to join Islington instead, ugh.

It’s a simple premise and makes for some great comedic scenes such as the bus journey out of London and into the Essex countryside where there are lots of trees. Then there are the cadet challenges like hauling a giant log through a wood, only the Camden crew end up dropping it onto a house. Meanwhile, Kolanis gets great use out of a single chair as it becomes a precarious DIY raft of barrels and rope that might or might not make it to the other side of the river. With simple changes in tone, posture and facial expression Kolanis blasts her way through a large ensemble of characters including the shouty cadet leader Staff Joe; a big, bald white mayor and the (in)famous Camden five themselves. I especially loved the flashback to a house party and despite there only being one person on stage I felt like I was there as a bunch of teens got wasted and someone stuck her fingers down her friend’s throat to help her puke. There were some darker jokes that played on homophobia and one about the exploded remains of a child that jarred tonally with the rest of the piece and I felt needed better nuancing to work.

There was also a deeper more poignant back-story as to why the protagonist and narrator Gabby sneaks into her school to cook eggs and why she avoids her Dad, and there was a great moment of vulnerability with a fellow cadet as they bond over similar experiences. Hopefully one day Kolanis will go deeper into these stories, using her already honed wit and flair for comedy. Watch this space.

Follow Dani on Twitter for info on upcoming performances.

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