Event review: Terriers at Fairfield Halls

By - Monday 24th November, 2014

Shaniqua Benjamin explains the important message behind a play at Fairfield Halls

Luke and Drew.
Photo by Frazer Ashford, used with permission.

“You give a boy a gun and he feels mighty”. This simple yet powerful statement from Terriers sums up the actions carried out by so many young men embroiled in gang culture. It is also a raw truth that was a running thread throughout the hard-hitting production, which arrived in Croydon for the first time on Monday 10th November.

Terriers is a play brought to Croydon by the Royal Court Liverpool Trust. Maurice Bessman was approached to write the script when the play was commissioned by Merseyside Police in 2008 with the aim of combating gang crime following the murder of Rhys Jones. Bessman visited schools in order to “get the language right”, and this must have worked because the play has now been seen by over 50,000 young people and has been met with a really positive response.

A gritty dance sequence opens the play

Terriers tells the story of a young man named Aldo who is caught up in gang rivalry between the Terriers (his gang) and the DH Crew. Director Miriam Mussa wanted to immediately capture young people’s attention, so a gritty dance sequence opens the play, drawing the audience in. Pumping, thrashing music filled the Ashcroft Theatre as the actors used dance and mime to portray two initial shootings. The fast action continued throughout the production and was a great way to keep young people engaged.

What we were then shown is the afterlife of the two young men from rival gangs shot dead at the beginning – a unique and effective aspect of the play. It was hard-hitting, as we watched Luke and Drew having to observe how their revenge-driven deaths had affected the people in their lives. As Luke’s character says, “You hurt someone, then someone hurts you back”, which sums up one of the main causes of so many unnecessary gang-related deaths.

For me, one of the most interesting scenes highlighted just how petty and mixed up gang members can be. Drew, a member of the DH Crew, tells Luke that he and Aldo attended the same school but ended up as deadly rivals when they joined opposing gangs. Although delivered with humour, this simple segment highlighted the twisted, but also empty and senseless, mentality of a large number of gang members.

Chelsea and Eve.
Photo by Frazer Ashford, used with permission.

Terriers also covered the issue of girls’ involvement with gangs, something that is skirted over far too often. Zain Salim, who played the character of Luke, said that more attention is now being given to females in gangs, and that it really needs to be.

Alyssa Watson captured the character of Eve perfectly, playing the part of the goading teenage girl who is desperate to be accepted and stay on the good side of the gang’s ‘top dog’. She showed vulnerability and naivety, but also the mean streak and trouble-making ability that so many of the girls wrapped up in gangs possess. On the other hand, the character of Chelsea added a softer side and provided a voice of reason, particularly for Aldo. She stays with the Terriers in a bid to convince Aldo to get out of the gang. She also questions why someone in his twenties – Eightball’s character – would spend so much of their time hanging around with teenage schoolchildren.

I was pleased that references to Scarface were thrown in, because it is a film that is a popular reference among gang members. I also liked that there was subtle humour throughout, to prevent the play from being too heavy. One of my stand-out moments was when Luke made a reference to two hard-core Los Angeles gangs, Bloods and Crips, mixing together in the afterlife.

The subject matter covered in Terriers is serious and extremely relevant

Eightball and Aldo.
Photo by Frazer Ashford, used with permission.

Part of what makes this play so special is that it encompasses a simple set and simple costumes, so that the focus stays on the story and the characters. The subject matter covered in Terriers is serious and extremely relevant: in his introductory statement, Borough Commander Andy Tarrant of the Metropolitan Police Service said that the best way to educate people is showing them what the consequences of belonging to a gang can be, and this is exactly what Terriers achieved.

Ultimately, the Terriers launch performance was a part of something bigger. Its one showing at Fairfield Halls on 10th November was followed up by performances within schools and colleges throughout Croydon the following week, with support from local charity Lives Not Knives. This also allowed students to ask questions after the performance.

If you missed out this time around, don’t worry, because the Terriers project will be returning in the first week of March 2015 and May 2015 (dates to be confirmed). Fairfield Halls is currently taking bookings for the project week in March, so please contact Celia Newell by calling 020 8603 3857 or emailing  for more information.

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Shaniqua Benjamin

Shaniqua Benjamin

Shaniqua is a writer and poet, born and raised in Thornton Heath, which she is proud to call her home. She has used her passion for making a difference to found a platform, Young People Insight, which empowers the voices of young people and encourages community engagement. When she’s not writing or trying to cause change, she loves reading, scrapbooking, watching films and listening to music.

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