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'Top Boy is a slice of life - it's not everybody's life'

INTERVIEW: Kane Robinson

UNLESS YOU were in hibernation throughout the latter part of 2011, you’re bound to have seen or heard about Top Boy.

The hugely hyped Channel 4 drama (we’re talking billboards to promote the show), explored the depth of inner-city drug and gang culture, revealing the daily battles and hopes of a group of teenagers living on an estate in Hackney, east London.

Starring British actors Ashley Walters and Kane Robinson – better known to his music fans as Kano – the drama won huge praise both for its gritty story and its slick cinematography, and garnered viewing figures worthy of commissioning a second series.

But with Top Boy boasting a predominantly black cast, and examining issues including mental health, drug culture and gang violence, it also earned a fair share of criticism for what some felt was an overly negative depiction of the black British community.

So with series two gearing up to return to screens next month, is there pressure to match the success of the first series – and perhaps silence the show’s critics?

“There is pressure, but it’s not really on the actors,” says Robinson. “We can only bring what we’ve got to our characters. But I’m sure there is pressure on Channel 4 because we generated such an interest with the first series.

“Every day since the first one finished, people have asked me, ‘when’s the second one coming out?’ It garnered such a huge fanbase; people were online talking about it. So we do wanna please those people and we hope they enjoy it.”

He adds: “I think it’s gonna appeal to a wider audience this time, hopefully still keeping the roots of what made the first one so successful.”

In series two (skip the next few paragraphs if you don’t want any spoilers about what’s to come), drug dealer Dushane (Walters) has finally made it as ‘top boy’, though he’s lost the support of his best friend and main ally, Sully (Robinson), who has resorted to more desperate measures to get cash with his new partner-in-crime, Mike (Paul Anderson).

THE BOYS ARE BACK: Malcolm Kamulete, Ashley Walters, Kane Robinson and Giacomo Mancini

But as the police close in and tensions escalate, Dushane and Sully have to join forces once more to take on a ruthless and powerful Albanian gang to save their livelihoods – and their lives.

Meanwhile, 15-year-old Ra’Nell (Malcolm Kamulete) hopes football might be a way to escape life on the streets – but his best friend Gem (Giacomo Mancini) has other plans that take him in a direction he is unable to control.

And Ra’Nell’s mum Lisa (Sharon Duncan Brewster) has made a full recovery from her nervous breakdown and is trying to make a life for herself running a local hair salon with friend Zoe (Jo Martin).

But when they come up against local property developers who want to raise their rent by 300 percent, everything they have built together is threatened.

It sounds pretty grim – and this is what some viewers took exception to with the first series, which is being released on DVD this week. What did Robinson make of the criticism the show received?

“From the very start, we – especially me and Ash [Walters] – stressed that that this [drama] is a slice of life. It’s not everybody’s life. But you’d be a liar if you said this didn’t happen in Hackney and in a lot of places around the world. And I come from east London, so I know.

“I remember when the first series started, someone said to Yann [Demange], who was the director of series one: ‘This is unrealistic and exaggerated. Kids aged 15 aren’t selling drugs.’ I was like, ‘Nah, this is real and I know this.’

“[Writer and creator] Ronan [Bennett] actually met a 12-year-old who was selling drugs, but he made the character older just so it didn’t seem unrealistic. But this stuff happens.”

However, Robinson admits that storylines have to be dramatized in order to create powerful viewing.
“At the end of the day, it is a drama so we have to create storylines,” he says. “It’s not completely real.”

Acting aside, the much-loved MC, celebrated for hits including P’s and Q’s and London Town says he’s now focusing on the medium that found him fame.

“Right now, I’m concentrating on more music. Hopefully I’ll get some more material recorded and release another album, and then maybe I’ll do more acting in the future.

“But music-wise, I’m hoping to drop some material soon. I’ve got some good songs, so I hope to put something out for the fans soon.”

Top Boy series one is out on DVD from July 22. Series 2 will air in August on Channel 4

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