Hoxton Street: A Live Theatre Soap ★★★★

Hoxton Hall presents Hoxton Street, a series of live soap episodes, where the audience votes on the dramatic cliffhangers

All photos © Hoxton Hall
One of the consistent elements in the creation of British TV soaps has been the desire to represent the way of life in a particular location. Coronation Street was first conceived by a 24 year old Tony Warren in a daydream on a train back to Manchester when he imagined “a little back street in Salford, with a pub at one end and a shop at the other”. In the pitch document for what was then called Florizel Street, he wanted the show to reflect the myriad of unwritten rules that “are the driving forces behind life in the working class street in the north of England.” The lexicon of “chuck”, “by ‘eck” and “nowt” were heard on British television screens for the first time.
A quarter of a century later, the BBC launched EastEnders, a gritty Southern rival to the Manchester-based soap. Set in the fictional London borough of Walford (E20) and based on Fassett Square in Dalston, this show was groundbreaking in terms of representing the diverse ethnicity found in East London. EastEnders opened with Jewish, black, Bangladeshi and Cypriot characters as regular cast members, changing the television landscape.
Hoxton Hall’s new live soap drama, titled Hoxton Street, has promised to reflect the vibrancy of local communities right on their doorstep. Writers Oladipo Agboluaje and Lil Warren spent time in the neighbourhood trying to get the essence of the place. Whether a unique sense of place is delivered, “Episode 1” certainly peppers the script with many local references that the Hoxton community will immediately recognise.
Successful soap operas  tend towards a certain recipe, mixing the lighthearted with the life changing, the everyday with the clanestine. And Hoxton Street is no exception. Soap fans will nod knowingly at some familiar tropes. A prodigal son returning to the Street to ruffle some feathers. A family matriarch keeping a worrying health diagnosis secret. Someone with a new identity and a concealed past. Even in its first half-hour episode, Hoxton Street spins enough intriguing plots to match the telly soaps.
Given that all soaps rise and fall on the quality of their regulars, where Hoxton Street succeeds is in the buoyancy of its cast.
Josie awaits her test results

In Helen Pearson, as the warm but no-nonsense Maynard family matriarch, they have a top actress who lives and breathes the soap genre. Having played Frankie in Hollyoaks for some 546 episodes, this is someone who knows how to wring every emotion out of a scene. Josie, nervously applying some lippy to give her steel in her spine before seeing the doctor for her test results, is classic soap shorthand for putting on a show of outer strength when inner strength is crumbling. 

The prodigal son returns but what are his intentions

All soaps need a bad boy: an antagonist who comes in and causes friction wherever he goes. EastEnders had Nick Cotton. Coronation Street had Terry Duckworth. And Hoxton Street has Tony Maynard. Returning to the area in secret after a prison stretch for burglary, Tony clearly is going to bring chaos and trouble for the residents of Hoxton Street. Actor Nathan Welsh brings a wonderful brooding quality of menace to his scenes, even if he is doing something as unthreatening as browsing through vinyl in the local record shop. A palpable frisson of excitement ran through the audience during Tony’s scenes.

Will the Wilsons find a perfect life in Hoxton?

Soaps always use sex appeal as part of their mix. Bringing some much needed glamour to Hoxton Street are the Wilsons, an aspirational couple who have just moved into the area. While Denton seems the easygoing half of the relationship, Shanita is a nightmare of gentrified entitlement determined to fit Hoxton around her image. Whether taking an electricity outage in the area as a personal insult or barging ahead of a grandmother in the doctors’ surgery, Shanita could easily be an unlikable monster but actress Tracy Anne Green gives a brilliant layered performance that adds warmth and humour to her character. Kojo Attah is deceptively understated until a certain reveal makes the audience see Denton in a very different light. Without giving away any spoilers, there is momentum to their storyline that clearly marks big drama ahead for the Wilsons.

Have Zack's troubles just multiplied?

Zachary Spencer, as the local vinyl store own and part of Hoxton’s second wave of gentrifiers, doesn’t have his troubles to seek. With debts mounting on his shop, his character’s situation feels the freshest, most 2022 of Hoxton Street‘s storylines.  In the role, Alan Turkington has a commanding stage presence and wonderful comic timing. 

You want the goss? Mrs Bello always has it!

In the week where we lost EastEnders’ soap legend June Brown, it seems strangely fitting that Carol Moses‘ gossipy busybody is such a triumph. Monica Bello is definitely bellow by name and nature. The glee with which she alights upon the potential “controlled explosion” of Tony Maynard’s clandestine return to the area is a joy to watch. Her natural vivaciousness also makes her the perfect host for the audience vote at the end of the “episode”.

Linda Maynard will appear later in the run

The one disappointment of Hoxton Street‘s first episode is the absence of Linda Maynard, to be played by theatrical powerhouse Linda Marlowe. Considering she’s central in the show’s cast photograph in advertising, audience members could be forgiven for being disappointed by the Maynards ultimate matriarch’s non-appearance. Any soap fan who watched Linda’s beautiful, poignant performance as Sylvie Carter in EastEnders will know the depth and nuance the actress can bring to a role. It seems very much a missed opportunity for the production not to utilise such a masterful performer more throughout the run.

Hoxton Street plays its trump card with audiences being treated to not one but two cliffhangers at the end of the “episode” – accompanied with suitably-dramatic-but-just-different-enough-to-avoid-copyright-infringement synth drum ‘doof-doofs’ a la EastEnders – with the audience then voting which storyline they want the show to explore more in the next “episode”. At the end of last night’s show, there was much hilarity as the audiences voted strongly and early for one particular plotline. It’s a great interactive gimmick that should keep audiences coming back to see future dramatic twists and turns.  Hoxton Hall’s artistic director, Karena Johnson, has found the perfect popular vehicle in a weekly live theatre soap to anchor the venue’s Class season and encourage the borough’s residents to be part of the conversation.

Our advice to the people of Hoxton: switch off your telly and get down to Hoxton Hall for your very own fun live soap that can easily rival Corrie or Enders! 

The Recs awards Hoxton Street…..doof doof….a dramatic 4 stars!

Tickets To Hoxton Street

Hoxton Street runs at Hoxton Hall from 7 April to 28 May

Individual Episodes - £8.50 (£6.50 concessions)

Tickets for all four episodes in advance £20 (£18 concessions)

Omnibus Edition - £24 (£22 concessions)

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