Swift Street

Emerging writer / director Tig Terera unleashes an energetic new local drama on SBS with plenty of promise.

Buckle up for the energetic, driving style of SBS’s latest drama, Swift Street.

The 8×30 minute drama is a force from emerging writer and director Tig Terera, a Zimbabwe-born, Aussie-raised creative determined to switch up our perceptions of how local drama can look on screen and about how black and brown characters can be portrayed.

Set in the northern Melbourne suburbs of Preston, Brunswick and Coburg, this is indeed a melting pot of communities, focussed here on Afrikan characters. There are flawed characters, bad eggs and those oppressed by the system.

Elsie (Tanzyn Crawford) lives in a low-rent home with her father, Robert (Cliff Curtis) whose wife left five years earlier. Elsie works at local whitegoods store when she isn’t selling fake IDs to school students for quick cash, and is saving her dollars for a bike stall.

But Robert is hardly the model father. Indecisive, lacking motivation and direction, he is now a shadow of his once-nefarious street hustler self. He has also accrued a $26,000 debt which local crime boss The Mechanic (Eliza Matengu) is now calling in.

It’s the push-pull tug of this uneasy father-daughter relationship that underpins where Swift Street will go. While Elsie calls her father by his first name, and yells at him like a bad housemate, it’s clear these two have stuck together through a lot. That’s about to be tested when Elsie learns of her father’s debts.

Opting to help him, Elsie will aid Robert as they embark on illegal acts (most of which would lead to jail time) to avoid Robert losing a body part or his life.

Meanwhile Tom (Keiynan Lonsdale), who trains at a boxing ring run by The Mechanic, has a new job working as security at Elsie’s workplace. He has a teenage brother (Daniel Wuol) being cared for by guardians but demanding him to help send financial support. Tom’s quickest way to get cash will be to squeeze it out of Robert.

The series also profiles Elsie’s current squeeze Tatenda (Alfred Chuol) and accomplice Aisha (Bernie van Tiel), with whom she sells fake IDs. Their inclusion helps illustrate that Elsie is also fluid in terms of attraction and identity -another of the welcome diverse touches from the series.

Dramatising a range of illegal acts will boldly dabble with audience sympathies. Is it possible to like characters that are so openly breaking the law, or do the means justify the end? Elsie is coming to the rescue of her hapless father, albeit begrudgingly, with tunnel-vision on succeeding no matter the cost.

There’s also much made of how hopeless Robert is as a father, yet I can’t quite equate that he was the one who stood by Elsie when their mother fled. So should she treat him with such contempt? I’m hoping those concerns become clearer as the series progresses…

Tig Terera directs with promise, allowing us insight into a community rarely brought to television. This Afro-Punk world pulsates in the back streets with raw energy and spirit.

Tanzyn Crawford and Cliff Curtis make for a dynamic, if unconventional, father-daughter duo, while Keiynan Lonsdale lights up the screen. The series is also notable for a number of first-time or emerging actors, creatively cast by Anousha Zarkesh.

Terera plays with whether the slippery slope of Elsie and Robert’s mission can bring them closer together or drive them further apart. Through a diverse lens, this is what SBS Drama is for.

Yet for me it is the promise of things to come. Early work of this strength is a sign of what’s to come, both from Terera and those he introduces to us. On that front Swift Street is likely to reverberate for some time.

Swift Street double episodes 8:30pm Wednesday on SBS.

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