Oxford Street, Royal Court, Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, London

3.00

Patter, patois, and laughs in store

Levi David Addai's new play Oxford Street is dedicated "to all those who toil or have toiled in retail, particularly those who work on that mile-and-a-half high street in London W1". That sympathetic salute, like the lively detail of his mischievous, closely observed comedy, smacks of insider knowledge. It would be no surprise to learn that he has paid his dues temping in that neck of the woods.

The last time that Oxford Street and art could be cited in the same breath was in 2001 when Michael Landy took over a vacant department store and, in protest at consumerism, catalogued and destroyed all of his 7, 226 personal possessions. While there are times that Addai's frustrated young sales assistants must wish to inflict a similar fate on the stock they are paid to flog at Total Sport, the management suspects that they are all budding shoplifters. Hence the "new exit law" whereby staff members have to fill out a form to confirm that they have been searched on the way out. It's an innovation that gives rise to the moral dilemma facing Nathaniel Martello-White's likeable Kofi, a black Londoner and recent graduate who's in danger of getting stuck at the store as a security guard. Darrell (Ashley Walters), an old school pal and a cocky bad lot, joins the workforce and wants Kofi to switch off the alarm and turn a blind eye to his trolleyload of liberated goods.

Addai's gift for buoyant comedy and cheeky charm was evident in his highly promising debut play 93.2 FM, set in a South London community radio station – a drama animated by sharp banter and a wicked ear for street argot and stylised, slangy patois. Oxford Street likewise sweeps you into a distinctive, thoroughly realised world. This impression is enhanced, in Dawn Walton's bustling, punchily acted production, by Soutra Gilmour's design, which transforms the Theatre Upstairs into the Oxford Street branch of Total Sport. Perched on white plastic pods that look like embryonic toilet bowls, the audience sits in the thick of the action as it moves around the various locations, from the security office and staff-room to the patrolled front doors.

The playwright has had the bright, fertile idea of throwing the scapegrace, racially mixed, workforce into attractively comic relief through the perspective provided by Alek (hilarious Kristian Kiehling), a twenty-something Polish loss-prevention officer. Strapping, unbudgeably humourless, and a pedantic stickler for the rules, he sneaks mistrustful glances at his less dutiful colleagues over the top edge of his Daily Mail.

Kofi and Preeya Kalidas's lippy Loraina, a wannabe songstress ("I didn't choose to do performing arts, performing arts chose me") enjoy winding up this burly obstruction to slacking, parodying his prejudices by treating him to an earful of argot ("yunart'amean?!").

Addai has a lightness of touch and a natural ease with dialogue that are reminiscent of our best black playwright, Roy Williams. As yet, though, he doesn't have Williams's acute instinct for locating the painful faultlines in multicultural Britain. Like the problem of betraying one's roots through upward mobility in 93.2 FM, the moral question of whether or not to snitch on a "brother" feels a bit shop-soiled (so to speak) as a dramatic focus. The pleasure of Oxford Street lies in the bounce of the joshing backchat, the dexterity with which it juggles multiple situations, and the authentic feel of the relationships (Cyril Nri gives a lovely performance as the impatient but humorously good-natured security manager who takes a protective, avuncular interest in young Kofi).

Another major boon is the spry way the wit keeps springing surprises. Asked by the lonely, smitten manageress whether, in lieu of Father Christmas, there's a figure in Ghana who represents the Yuletide spirit, Emmanuel replies that, yes, there is. It is Jesus Christ.

To 31 May (020-7565 5000)

Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments