‘There are streets with nice shops, good restaurants and houses for people who are doing well. But turn a corner and you are in a different world: grim, sprawling housing estates where windows are barred, pit bulls are exercised in the courtyards, and families struggle to make ends meet. There are guns and knives, and people get killed by both,’ said Ronan Bennett, creator and producer of the acclaimed and gritty series Top Boy.
The award winning show returns to Channel 4 on Tuesday 20th August 2013 for a second series after with actor Ashley Walters reprising his role as the cool streetwise and methodical Dushane. The story follows the lives of four inner city young people living in the fictional deprived estate of Summerhouse in East London and the harsh realities of living in one of London’s typical tower block estates swarmed with gang warfare and drug turf wars.
When speaking on his inspiration for making the series, producer Ronan Bennett who has lived in Hackney for 25 years, recalls how he once witnessed a 12 year-old boy dealing drugs outside a Tesco car park near his home which moved him to write about how rife drug and gang culture coincides with low income, urban areas where kids as young 12-13 fend for themselves selling drugs to make a living because of unstable homes or missing parental figures. Much of the show’s allure comes from its authenticity.
Kane Robinson also known as grime and MC artist Kano who continues his on-going role as the menace and tough-boy ‘Sully’, spoke about the distinct assessment of what Top Boy is portraying in the second series, ‘The stories of kids getting into gangs isn’t the only thing going on out there, Ronan’s also telling stories of single mothers raising kids, trying to run a business, rents being too high, shops getting shut down.’ The tough reality of David Cameron’s post- recession Britain of welfare cuts, which has stretched the gap between the rich and poor, along with a lack of job opportunities and prospects can push some young people to stray into a life of crime and violence.
Things have changed
In the series we will see former So-Solid crew member Ashley Walters character Dushane has since risen to the top of the drug dealing game since the first series but has lost the support of his best friend and main ally, Sully (Kane Robinson) in the process. Dushane prepares to move into the big time with boss Joe (David Hayman). But becoming Top Boy has come at a cost: Dushane’s former right hand man Sully is now a potentially dangerous rival, resorting to ever more desperate measures to get hold of cash with his new partner-in-crime, violent and volatile Mike (Paul Anderson).
Ashley speaks of how the show strives to portray a different path for youngsters to follow outside their post-codes and estates, ‘I’m inspired by the fact that for every kid we see committed to crime, there’s kids determined to go to uni and not follow their peers. I think doing something proper and sensible is becoming more popular now, rather than taking the easy road.’
Similar to US crime and urban drama series The Wire, Top Boy brings a raw, edgy and thrilling interpretation of life in inner-city London; speaking from his experience with inner city kids, Ronan said he realized that life on the estate is much more complex than what meets the eye: ‘Just because someone is buying and selling drugs in Hackney, doesn’t mean they’re bad people. In parts of Hackney, dealing drugs is how some people make a living. It’s part of the fabric of life.’
Top Boy begins on Channel 4 on Tuesday 20th August 2013 at 9pm. For more information on the series go to: www.channel4.com/programmes/top-boy
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Words by Tosin Salami