It's a rough road to Nirvana

The Lounge Act tells how the rock star Kurt Cobain helps a young man to find truth
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The Independent Culture

Could one find spiritual enlightenment with the help of a prostitute, an old woman and the dead rock star Kurt Cobain? That is the scenario of a new play by Reg Ajuonuma. Written as part of the Royal Court's Young Writers Programme 2003, The Lounge Act, a play about spirit and release, is the first of his plays to be performed in public.

Could one find spiritual enlightenment with the help of a prostitute, an old woman and the dead rock star Kurt Cobain? That is the scenario of a new play by Reg Ajuonuma. Written as part of the Royal Court's Young Writers Programme 2003, The Lounge Act, a play about spirit and release, is the first of his plays to be performed in public.

"The vibe of the play is Donnie Darko meets The Catcher in the Rye meets Kurt Cobain," says Ajuonuma, 28, who is from east London. He has been developing his play about 17-year-old David and his journey of discovery with his fellow newcomer, the director Noah Birksted-Breen.

"We share the opinion that theatre should be magical," says the playwright, whose inspirations include Sam Shepard, Sarah Kane, Beckett and Pinter. "When you see the play you will have a theatrical experience, rather than it being a linear experience that could just as well be television."

Birksted-Breen is a reader of new Russian-language plays for the Royal Court's international department, and is part of the Genesis Foundation programme for young directors at the Young Vic. He is also studying for a Masters in advanced theatre practice at the Central School of Speech and Drama.

Ajuonuma, whose first play, Everlasting Life and the Tale of the Swimmer, was "written very quickly", says he has found his voice with The Lounge Act. "The first play was about three characters in no man's land, recounting memories and playing games. It was far more Beckett-like and existentialist. Rather than the drama being circular, this play moves forward. There is resolution."

Away from his family and friends, David lives in a squat. "A chandelier given to him by the old woman stands out in stark contrast to the junk around him, and sets the tension of his journey," Ajuonuma says. "By the end, once the characters have teased out different parts of David to create a flowering, the space he lives in is transformed into somewhere quite beautiful."

What purpose does Kurt Cobain serve? "Here, the Kurt Cobain character is not the man from Nirvana-drug addict-rock star, but a human being," says the playwright. "Like all the other characters, he illuminates David. He supports him in his search for truth. Using his own experience of having had depression, he is able to empathise with David's plight. He helps to bring David along the path," Ajuonuma says. "I've read many of his journals and books about him. The humanity of Kurt Cobain is very useful in the play."

How difficult is it being a playwright today? "For me, it is a vocation. I am just doing it," Ajuonuma says. "I suppose it can be difficult to get plays put on. As with anything worth doing, to have a bit of friction and struggle to achieve something gives it more value. Theatre can be hard labour, but at the end of the day we all love it."

'The Lounge Act', White Bear Theatre, London SE11 (020-7793 0193), 31 August to 19 September

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