Elmina's Kitchen, Garrick Theatre, London

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Kwame Kwei-Armah has survived the indignity of losing to Ruby Wax on Celebrity Fame Academy in style. Many a man would have emigrated to New Zealand, but Kwei-Armah toughed it out.

Kwame Kwei-Armah has survived the indignity of losing to Ruby Wax on Celebrity Fame Academy in style. Many a man would have emigrated to New Zealand, but Kwei-Armah toughed it out.

December saw the unveiling of his fine play Fix Up at the National, and now we have this commercial transfer of Elmina's Kitchen, the National hit that won him the Evening Standard award for most promising dramatist. Elmina's Kitchen is about the gritty reality of Murder Mile in Hackney, and it's good to see it at the commercial cutting-edge.

It's no handicap that Angus Jackson's gripping and generous-spirited production now features the author - popular former star of Casualty (the self-mocking Casualty gag seems a bit forced with Kwei-Armah on stage) and recording artist - as the ex-boxer Deli, who's now running the Hackney café of the title and trying to wrest his 19-year old son Ashley (an excellently touchy Michael Obiora) away from a street culture of guns and drugs. Ashley thinks his plantain burger-selling father is a wimp for being stoically passive in the face of competitive aggression from neighbours. So he looks for a role model in Shaun Parkes's dangerously disaffected Digger, who trades in offering the kind of "protection" that's just a threat in transparent disguise.

The play, with its sharp ear for different registers of talk, explores the tensions between fathers and sons in three generations of the black working-class, who come together after the death in prison of Deli's brother, which triggers the homecoming of the estranged clan head, Clifton.

In the role, Don Warrington oozes all the misplaced satisfaction and sexual vanity that inflicted more disruption on the family than firearms and drugs. "You look good, I look great," he boasts to Dona Croll's sympathetic Anastasia, an older woman who, once hired, takes the café upmarket, while never taking her eyes off Deli.

Black-on-black violence; the easy rejection of education; the difficulties of getting on without seeming to sell out - the play raises a host of such issues. The original Deli, Paterson Joseph, conveyed the tension and tenderness in the character without the faint aura of stoical sanctity transmitted by the author, who has huge presence but is a rather stiff stage actor.

Elmina's Kitchen is a compelling, disjointed piece that seems at times like a moral melodrama and at others, particularly in the hilarious banter between Clifton and Baygee (a charming Oscar James) like the unbuttoned, disreputable tragicomedy of Sean O'Casey. The time-schedules of these different styles - the rigid agenda of tragedy, the more expansive, dilatory programme of the other (well underscored by the attractive live music) - aren't well co-ordinated. I hope that in his next play Kwei-Armah might tip the balance more towards the latter mode.

Booking to 20 August (0870 890 1104)

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