Peckham: calling not balling
Ayshia Armani from Brixton-based Live Magazine meets the cast of Youngers to talk TV, rap and running round tables screaming.
Walking slowly through the narrow corridors, approaching the stage; the roaring crowd and harsh lights would be the last thing they’d see before knowing their fate. Looking at each other nervously, this is what they’ve all been waiting for – their shot at making it big. No, it’s not Eight Mile, but a city story much closer to home.
The exciting new E4 comedy drama Youngers focuses on a group of three friends, Yemi, Jay and Davina, who are trying to make their dreams come true and score their big break in the music industry. Set in Peckham, it follows their journey through teenage life in a world that’s more about swagger than straight ‘A’s. We’ve all seen this story before. So what makes Youngers unique? It’s a drama with a difference, a family-friendly show about teens that steers clear of gangs, drugs and violence, pioneering a new angle on the ‘urban’ dramas that pour out of British cinema and television.
Calvin Demba, Ade Oyefeso and Shavani Seth were selected from the thousands who auditioned to play the lead roles of Jay, Yemi and Davina respectively, starring alongside popular YouTube stars Mandem On The Wall (Percelle Ascott, Joivan Wade and Dee Kartier) who inspired Youngers, with writers basing the programme on their online series. “It will be crazy to actually see it on TV,” says Mandem’s baby-faced Percelle. “Right now I’m still pinching myself because it hasn’t sunk in yet, but I can’t wait.”
A sense of pure elation radiates off all six. It’s the first major acting role for each, and they’re unable to conceal their sheer enthusiasm. “I was just so excited about the project, so passionate about it,” says Ade Oyefeso, who plays the role of Yemi, the star student with a passion for music production. “I was always interested in drama and we had some passionate teachers who put on some really amazing plays. Just being around that made me want to pursue it. In school I always just about passed except in Drama – it was my favourite subject and the only thing I got ‘A’s in.”
The camera-shy Ade relates his experience in typically quiet style, but Shavani Seth, who plays the group’s aspiring singer, has no such inhibitions, admitting she went nuts when she heard.
“I was working as a waitress when the call came, polishing over 200 glasses, and my manager said ‘Oh, still looking for your big break?’ and did this sort of smirk. I just kept smiling. I finished my shift, checked my voicemail and it was my agent asking me to call back. I did, and he asked why I hadn’t been attending classes. I explained I couldn’t afford it. He wasn’t too happy so I told him, OK, I’ll be back in class. He said ‘No you won’t, because you’re going to be doing the E4 series Youngers as Davina’. I was in Marleybone station, I dropped all my bags and I was screaming. I ran back into the restaurant where I worked, ran around the tables and shouted ‘I’m leaving!’”
Calvin Demba, who plays Jay, the loudest, most boisterous of the trio – obviously he’s the rapper – had no such drama. “My agent gave me a call and said we have an audition for a show named Youngers,” he says. “When they first told me about what the role involved, I was a bit dubious. They told me I had to rap so I went straight to YouTube and looked at MCs I thought would correlate nicely with Jay. I looked at Benny Banks, Ratlin and a few others rappers. Then I just learnt the rap, delivered it in the audition and when it was filmed for the actual show I was more or less alright.”
So how did the rest of the cast prepare? “The role is so similar to myself in certain ways so I could relate to him a lot,” explains Ade. “He’s so driven to be successful and he’s not doing what everyone else wants him to do because he thinks that’s the easy way out, he wants to give it a go.”
The cast seem so relaxed and open, I decide to go for the jugular: were there any off-screen romances? A laughing Shavani clarifies, “Everyone always asks that! No, we see each other like family. But I don’t blame them – they see us at our worst, in the morning, with no make-up, no hair done, just dragging ourselves out of bed. We know each other too well now.” And like a family, they play off each other’s comments, re-living old jokes, like school friends who’ve known one another for years. “Everyone was really cool to work with,” Calvin says.
Asked to sum Youngers up in one sentence, Ade pauses. “It’s a fun family show that you can watch with your parents and not have to leave the room because of inappropriate scenes.” Shavani is more fulsome: “It’s real, it’s teenage, it’s south London, it’s Peckham, it’s music and it’s the media. It’s about what happens in people’s lives. It is a brilliant show and there is nothing like it on TV right now.”