Young Critics review The Garbage King  

We teamed up with Unicorn Theatre to support  its Young Critics scheme at a performance of The Garbage King, the stunning adaptation of Elizabeth Laird’s novel. Ink Pellet said we would publish the one we thought was the best in the magazine and young Adam Trizinski from Ashcroft Technology Academy won this honour. Here we publish the worthy runners-up. If you would like to find out more about the scheme, log on to and follow the ‘for schools’ link.

Review by Ben Allinson – Year 11 Ashcroft Technology Academy

The atmosphere kicks off the performance; starting the moment you enter the auditorium. Through the modern theatre seating and down towards your seat. The slowly constructing thoughts of where you could possibly be increase as you feel the floor change under your feet, to the rough texture of a less developed country.

I was first struck by the sheer amount of rubbish, piled in a massive heap at the back of the stage, creating the set, and reminding me of the title The Garbage King. It’s an incredible sight. Closely explore each area of it, and you’ll see that it really is just built up of general waste that can be found in a landfill. Next, my eyes were drawn to the interesting looking musical instruments. These do look very odd, and I was fascinated, as they seemed to be made up of some guitar strings bound by a rectangular shaped wooden frame, nothing I’d ever seen before. The acting hasn’t yet begun; and I already appreciate the effort behind this promising production.

Temesgen Taraken opens the story; plucking and tapping his tune while also blasting out the lyrics to one of his many impressive lead singer roles, accompanying the well choreographed, opening dance routine. I’m very impressed at how many characters were portrayed by the ensemble of six. The speedy costume changing is one thing, however each performer has the ability to switch between characters using a variety of techniques including accent, articulation and body language.

I really enjoyed the enthusiastic set changes. Each one implemented a clever dance routine along with the accompanying music and steady light changes. As an adaptation of a book, the story is painted very clearly to the audience. However, rather than words, the narration is done with flashbacks, light changes that set the perfect mood and abstract interpretations of the book.

Generally speaking I’d recommend this play to anyone, and indeed the Unicorn Theatre in general as I have enjoyed watching performance here before, and I look forward to seeing more productions from such a brilliant theatre.

Review by Bobbie Stow-Tucker Year 9 -Ashcroft Technology Academy

The Garbage King is a very interesting play. The first thing I noticed as soon as I entered the theatre was that the props were all made up from garbage. This is a very well thought out idea as ties in with the title The Garbage King. I liked this idea because it kept a theme throughout and it was entertaining to see what they would make a certain object out of. Although the dog that was made out of a hair drier was very irritating because there would be a very interesting conversation and a person speaking would run of barking pretending to be the dog which made it very annoying because it slowed down the tempo of the play.

The play struck me as there were only six actors and sixteen characters; this made it very easy for the audience, as they didn’t have to remember another face. They would know right away that, that person is X and Y.

There were parts of the play that really worked, for example the scene changes. These worked because they played an original piece of African music and the cast did a kind of ritual dance while the taking away and bringing on of props happened. This is a very effective way as the audience will not get bored of it being silent and people bringing in props.

There was a particular part of the play that I really enjoyed which was the song just before the interval ‘We’re the survivors’. This song was played just after Dani and Mamo had just joined Millions’s gang and this song told us that they would survive together. It was a loud and energetic song that left every one with a smile on their faces.

However I disliked the staging. It was a flat semi circle. I didn’t like it because some people had their back to me and I might miss something like a funny facial expression and I couldn’t hear them properly sometimes. The best place to sit would be directly at the front.

All in all I really enjoyed the play as it had a good story line had brilliant actors, musician and singers which made the experience amazing. If I were to rate this out of ten I would give it 8.75/10.

Review by Chrissy Pretious-Cooney, Harris Academy Bermondsey

An emotional, touching, humorous and tragic performance bringing life to the stage! Travelling with Dani and Mamo learning life of the street kids. Filling the room with excitement and gloom. Witnessing abuse, violence, poverty and exploitation. Flashbacks to show their past. It explains how life isn’t perfect, we don’t realise how lucky we are until we lose it all.

Recycled junk piled high up into a hill, the massive set draws you straight in! Instantly thinking of a rubbish dump. Sounds and smoke effects making you smell the dirty rotting rubbish of the city of Ethiopia and hear the sirens that make you feel scared and worried for the characters. Cleverly the set becomes the props for the show, characters always disappearing into it.

I especially loved the character Mamo, The Garbage King. He is clear in his young, foreign, uneducated way. Movements expressing a lovable, sweet and caring personality, i.e. he was the only one that offered to sell Dani’s story. Contrastingly, Dani’s clear voice informs us of his educated, wealthy background. He often overreacts. The actors had obviously spent time analysing and getting into role. They demonstrate it’s rough and it’s hard to cope in this situation.

Sadness hits when we find out that one of the youngest characters dying. Sitting anxiously as Dani tells us a story, the audience is just getting into it, when there’s a yell! The audience jump and are left with tear in their eye…

The director leaves you with a feeling of mixed emotions, sheer happiness when the love of father to son is shown. Utter devastation when the youngest character is taken. The play brings the best out of the bad things in life. Learning we should be grateful for what we have. The Garbage King is a must for all!

Review by Lauren Young, Year 8, Harris Academy Bermondsey

The Garbage King was about living on the streets in Addis Ababa. It informed us how it can change people’s lives for good or bad. After watching the play we can understand the things that “street kids” do to survive. I think it was trying to raise awareness towards homelessness.

The set was creatively made. Most of it was made up from old plastic bags and rubbish to fit in with the recycling theme. It was meant to be set outside, on the streets, most of the time and it did give that effect. The audience could see the stage from all different angles which added more effect.

In my opinion, the two characters who brought the most energy to the play were Dani and Mamo. They had the two biggest parts and the chemistry shown between them was most realistic. At times I felt as if I knew them myself. They projected their voice but still managed to keep in character.

The whole drama was very intriguing but the part where Karate died was very powerful due to the fact it brought out a lot of feelings in characters such as Millions and Shoes that we didn’t see in the rest of the play. Another scene that I really enjoyed was the conversation Dani and Mamo had when they found out Dani’s mother had passed away. It showed a lot of feeling.

When I left the theatre I couldn’t get the play out of my mind, thinking about the fact that this was a true story. I loved the play especially the fact that this street gang didn’t tolerate crime which is a big problem with young people today.

I think this play was successful in teaching the audience and anyone over the age of 10 should see it.