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Top Boy’s Saffron Hocking: ‘The show is so popular because it’s real’

It’s been a long three year wait, but Top Boy is finally back on our screens. Saffron Hocking, who plays Lauryn, explains how women are central to the storyline and the responsibility she felt depicting a character trapped in an abusive relationship.

Crime, loyalty, power and violence are the themes that run through Top Boy and have turned it into a global hit. But it nearly ended after two, albeit, acclaimed seasons on Channel 4.

It was saved by rap mega-star Drake, who helped resurrect it on Netflix. And now the highly-anticipated new series has landed after a three-year wait.

While in previous seasons, the lives of male gang members in the crime-filled Summerhouse Estate were at the heart of the show, this time, women are at the centre of some vital storylines, according to Saffron Hocking, who, along with Little Simz and Jasmine Jobson, produces an outstanding performance.

“I think the women come out on top,” says Hocking. “They are not just there to facilitate a male storyline. They are the storyline. They have the most important stories.”

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Rising star Hocking plays Lauryn, part of a cast whose performances are emotionally charged, sensitive, and vulnerable, their chemistry electric. Hocking says it’s down to their close off-screen relationships.

“We all love each other,” she says. “The dramas on the show is non-existent in real life.”

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Lauryn was last seen fleeing for her life after passing secrets about Sully (Kane Robinson) to his rivals. In the eight new episodes, she is key; vulnerable, pregnant and involved in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend, Curtis (Howard Charles).

This is, says Hocking, one of many real-life social issues explored this season – and it could not be more relevant or timely.

“I think Top Boy is so popular because it’s real,” she says.

“It covers social issues that people can relate to – it’s not just gang, gun and drug culture. There are storylines such as homophobia, deportation and child abuse issues in there with mine about domestic abuse.

“Lauryn, bless her, she’s having a real tough time. She’s been shunned from Summerhouse and left to her own devices – and the only thing she can do is try to survive. She looks for love in the wrong place and ends up in a terrible, toxic, horrible environment.

“She’s pregnant so it’s not just about her anymore. I think we all make mistakes in life when we’re young – everyone does but you can grow and learn from it. Lauryn is forced to grow up and realise that her mistakes don’t just affect her now they affect her future child. So the stakes are incredibly high, which is why she has to get out of this situation in order to save herself. To save her unborn child.”

Recent research shows that between April and June 2020 there was a 65 per cent increase in calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline. While in 2021 845,734 crimes linked to domestic abuse were recorded by police.

Saffron Hocking attends a preview screening of “Top Boy” Season 2 at Hackney Picture House on March 11, 2022. Image: Sama Kai

Hocking did not take her portrayal of a domestic abuse victim lightly. As soon as she read the script, she realised it came with a big responsibility. The 28-year-old contacted Refuge, an organisation that assists domestic violence victims.

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“I could never have foreseen or imagined how supportive they ended up being. They educated me, advised me,” says Hocking.

“I didn’t want to treat this as an entertaining storyline. I wanted to treat it as something that I can invest in to showcase the harsh reality of people’s lives and what they go through.

“If one female watches Top Boy and realises: ‘Ah, okay, I can relate to this – this isn’t right. I need to get out of it’ then that would make me happy.”

Hocking says the role has opened up a rollercoaster of emotions – including a profound compassion for victims of domestic violence.

“I tell the story with as much truth and honesty as I can, but I can walk away from that,” she says. “Whereas there are women and men who wish that they could walk away. They wish it was all just acting for them, but they live in the harsh reality, that’s their life.

“That was quite harrowing for me. I just felt terrible that this is people’s reality.”

In April 2021, Saffron Hocking took to Twitter to express her solidarity with women who spoke out against Noel Clarke, as allegations of bullying and sexual misconduct piled up have been levelled against the British actor. She emphasised the need for solidarity and for women to speak out.

“Men must be allies, they must support us if you see any form of injustice or something you don’t believe. You must speak up,” she pauses. “The other day I was on the Tube and this man was sort of being a bit inappropriate with me, leaning into me, coming a bit too close and then doing it to another woman. A gentleman stepped in and said: ‘Listen I’m watching what you’re doing and I’m not liking it – leave the girls alone.’

“You know, we could speak for ourselves, but just know that there was a fellow human being there, let alone a man, that stood up for us and had our backs… that’s all it takes.” 

The latest series of Top Boy is available now on Netflix

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