Lenny comes home – bringing Danny and the Human Zoo

I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the Dudley Premiere of Lenny Henry’s Danny and the Human Zoo on 20th August 2015 and now I have watched the 90 minute drama, I can confidently say you are in for a Bank Holiday treat.  The wonderfully entertaining 90 minute premiere was followed by a Q&A, hosted by Radio WM’s Adrian Goldberg, with questions put to director Destiny Ekaragha, writer Lenny Henry and lead actor Kascion Franklin.

Danny and the Human Zoo is loosely based on Lenny’s own early life in Dudley and his rise to fame through the ATV Talent Show, New Faces, which was recorded at the recently demolished ATV Studios on Broad Street, Birmingham.

Danny and the Human Zoo Review

Following an opening text that claims the ‘events are real…honest’, a needle drops onto a vinyl record and we are treated to a brief burst of Mille’s My Boy Lollipop and introduced to a dancing Danny, way back in 1964.  The next decade soon arrives and so do the hits of the era, which cement the action firmly in the seventies, and bring a recollective smile to the faces of many of the lucky few that have obtained tickets. The music throughout is wonderful, it even has a theme tune, Pharrell William’s Freedom, that is so catchy you will be humming it for days to come.

As well as the music the 70s fashions, cars and even the TV shows of the era are all perfectly represented with clips from Bruce Forsyth’s Generation Game, Mike Yarwood and Some Mother’s Do ‘Ave ‘Em featuring on the family TV. Director Destiny Ekaragha made an amusing reference to the Dudley Zoo chair lift in the Q&A, stating she was scared to ride it as she thought it was a very authentic 1970s attraction, to be corrected by Lenny Henry who informed it it WAS the original 1970s Dudley Zoo attraction she had ridden.

The title role of Danny is played by Wednesbury actor  Kascion Franklin, in his first major role, and if this is the standard of his performance then he has a long and successful career ahead of him. He absolutely shines as Danny, playing comedy and tragedy with seemingly effortless and equal measure and creates an extremely likable character that you warm to immediately.  Danny struggles with racist bullying both in and out of school and there are a few phrases that were difficult to hear in our modern era, but that only helps to recreate the social environment of a 1970s era Dudley.

Throughout his story Danny is supported by his Black Country mates, who have some great lines all delivered in a wonderful local dialect by the young cast, however, they are knocked firmly into second place in the accent stakes by Danny’s Jamaican family, in particular Cecilia Noble, who puts in an award winning performance as Danny’s mother Myrtle.  Lenny Henry’s role, as Danny’s dad Samson, is also perfectly played and while his screen time is quite limited, he puts in a perfectly measured performance while letting the other characters and his heartwarming and honest script take centre stage.

Other familiar faces to look out for include, Arthur Darvill (Dr Who) as Danny’s manager Jonesy, Mark Benton (Waterloo Road) as a not so pleasant compare, Syd Bolton, at a Working Man’s Club, Cherrelle Skeete (Ordinary Lies) as Danny’s policewoman sister Dee Dee and Evanna Lynch (Harry Potter) as Danny Irish barmaid girlfriend, Bridget.  There is even a brief appearance by Richard Wilson as promoter James Broughton, who thinks absolutely nothing of adding the young black impressionist to the line-up of his Black and White Minstrel show as well as appearances from James and Oliver Phelps (Harry Potter) who play the twin managers of the Queen Mary’s Ballroom at Dudley Zoo.

There are plenty of location spotting opportunities throughout with scenes filmed at Dudley Zoo, Netherton Canal and a factory in Tipton as well as some scenes that were filmed in Moseley and Birmingham, including the Banqueting Palace at Perry Barr.

The show is witty and funny with some laugh out loud moments but it also has some darker moments with family tragedy, manipulative agents and those brief racist moments that will no doubt leave those viewers too young to remember the seventies open mouthed in shock.  What comes across really clearly is that Lenny loves Dudley and as he said in the Q&A he could not have made this film anywhere else and he seemed genuinely proud to bring his story back home.

Even though I’ve seen it already, I can’t wait to watch it all over again on Bank Holiday Monday.

Further Coverage

Birmingham Mail

Express and Star

Radio Times

BBC Midlands Today

 

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