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The Royal Court Theatre presents
at Theatre Local, Peckham
by Rachel De-lahay
3 November - 19 November 2011
Theatre Local, Peckham
Tickets: £10, £8 concs
“ – Do you think you’re going to get married in a church or a temple?”
“ – I think you should get married on an elephant and wear a sari thing like that pussycat doll. Fit!”
Tickets are still available. ‘Pay What You Like’ tickets are available on the door at the Bussey Building for every performance. Peckham Box Office opens 2 hours before each performance.
The accusation of a Black teenager sparks disturbance on the South London streets. While tensions rise, a couple from very different backgrounds navigate the minefield between them and their families.
The Westbridge explores the intricacies of living side by side, and looks at racial and cultural distinctions with humour and bite.
Rachel De-lahay came to the Royal Court through the Unheard Voices Writers Programme, which aims to support and develop writers whose voices are under-represented on British stages. Rachel was part of the group aimed at young Muslim writers. The Westbridge is her first play, which, while still unproduced, was jointly awarded the Alfred Fagon Award last year.
Clint Dyer directs. As a director, his credits include the hit show The Big Life, (West End & Theatre Royal Stratford East) and an award-winning short film Pukka.
The Westbridge is part of the Royal Court’s Jerwood New Playwrights programme, supported by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation. It was developed with the support of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation as part of Unheard Voices: A Paul Hamlyn Foundation Project.
Directions to the Bussey Building
Theatre Local is sponsored by Bloomberg.
4 stars The Sunday Times, By Maxie Szalwinska, 13th November 2011
The swirling accusation that a black teenager has raped an Asian girl leads to vandalism on a south London estate. Smashed shop windows aren’t the only repercussion – the rumour threatens to upend the relationship between Soriya (Chetna Pandya) and Marcus (Fraser Ayres), a mixed-race couple who have just moved in together. Rachel De-lahay’s debut, playing in a former cricket-bat factory in Peckham before it transfers to the Royal Court, displays an urgent engagement with big, messy questions of ethnic and cultural identity. Yet, while it deals with racial tensions, it also gives a sense of life spooling on and of people rubbing along. All the characters contend with feelings of not belonging, and De-lahay treats them with admirable even-handedness, prejudice cohabiting with tolerance. The script isn’t freighted with pessimism, moving nimbly from drama into comedy and back. And Clint Dyer’s production even finds room in its heart for George, Soriya’s daffily superficial chum, whose biggest concern appears to be: “Does my lipstick match my handbag?” 4 stars The Daily Telegraph, By Charles Spencer, 11th November 2011
This thrilling debut play by Rachel De-lahay plugs straight into the jittery heart of multicultural London today. And it receives a cracking production in the Bussey Building in Peckham Rye, a former factory that once manufactured cricket bats and is now a buzzing community centre.
The show is part of the Royal Court’s admirable Theatre Local programme, which in a previous incarnation took over an abandoned retail outlet in a run-down shopping centre at the Elephant and Castle to present a play about the fallout from a teenage gang knifing. The idea is to bring theatre to people who would sooner see plays on their doorstep rather than schlep up to posh Sloane Square.
The Westbridge is staged with the audience watching the drama from scattered seats in the centre of the dilapidated factory floor, while the action takes place on raised platforms running round the walls. You have to keep craning your neck to see what’s going on where, as the production conjures up a night-time vision of racial tension and sudden violence on a south London housing estate.
But, if this makes the piece sound grim, it is only half the picture. De-lahay has an alert ear for comic dialogue and her portrait of mixed-race, upwardly mobile twentysomethings on the estate – one character works in PR, another is an aspiring model – crackles with wit as well as moments of deep emotion.
The play raises the provocative question of whether it is possible to shrug off the fraught issue of racial identity. The estate is thrown into crisis and rioting when rumour spreads that a young Asian girl has been raped by a group of black youths, one of them a cocky, 16-year-old kid called Andre, known to the older characters in the play.
And the rise of racial tension on the estate forces them to consider their own allegiances. Smart PR girl Soriya mocks her brother for entering an arranged marriage with a Pakistani girl, but suddenly begins to wonder whether she should continue her relationship with Marcus, who is mixed-race Anglo-Caribbean – especially when it is clear her Pakistani father disapproves. Meanwhile, her white friend Georgina, a hilariously feckless dumb blonde with manifestly doomed dreams of success as a model, still holds a torch for Soriya’s brother, who is experiencing tensions in his own traditionally arranged marriage.
It’s a play that combines sharp one-liners with a savvy sense of the way we live now, and Clint Dyer’s fine production, ingeniously designed by Ultz, hurtles along in telling scenes that do justice to both the comedy and the serious underlying issues of the play.
Daisy Lewis delights with her deliciously dizzy but also poignant Georgina, all faddy diets, fashion mags and disastrous nights on the town. Chetna Pandya memorably captures the mixed-race confusion of Soriya, and Ryan Calais Cameron keeps you guessing to the end whether Andre is merely a lippy, likeable rogue or something more sinister.
One leaves the theatre impatient to discover what Rachel De-lahay will come up with next. 4 stars The Evening Standard, By Fiona Mountford, 9th November 2011
The Royal Court couldn’t have picked a better play for the second season of its fine Theatre Local project. After last year’s sojourn in Elephant and Castle, this time the move has been from Sloane Square to Peckham Rye, to former cricket bat factory The Bussey Building. It’s the perfect location for Rachel De-lahay’s fizzing debut drama about racial tensions boiling over on a south London estate.
There’s both youthful verve and adult observation in De-lahay’s writing. It starts with tentatively peaceful inter-racial relationships in and around the eponymous Battersea estate and shows people negotiating their way in a stressed society, which gradually unravels until a number of characters begin trading in prejudices. “Stuff kicks off around here all the time,” says black teenager Andre (Ryan Calais Cameron) and, sure enough, he finds himself the chief suspect for the rape of a young Asian girl. But was a crime committed, or is this a rumour to stir up trouble?
Suspicion travels fast, particularly to the newly-established cohabitation between Soriya (Chetna Pandya), of white-Pakistani heritage, and Marcus (Fraser Ayres), white-Afro-Caribbean. The actors roam about on raised tables ranged around the darkened edges of the room, watched by audience members seated on chairs placed seemingly at random. It’s a stylish design and makes us edgily aware that stuff could indeed “kick off”.
Director Clint Dyer keeps the energy levels buzzing and coaxes strong performances from his ten-strong cast. There’s a delicious central turn from Daisy Lewis as Georgina, Soriya’s neurotic flatmate, whose vacuous daily concerns hide heartbreak at a failed cross-cultural romance. We’ll be hearing more from her, and also from De-lahay.
The Stage, By Mark Shenton, 9th November 2011
Last year the Royal Court’s Theatre Local project, in which it took some of its studio plays away from Sloane Square to re-stage them in a disused shopfront in the Elephant and Castle shopping centre, won the Dan Crawford Innovation Award at the annual Empty Space/Peter Brook ceremony. Now the project continues, this time in Peckham in a former industrial space that has already become a creative hub for designers and artists.
It’s an appropriately gritty environment for a play set in a London of brooding racial tensions and simmering violence that is all too recognisable, especially after the summer riots that actually hit Peckham. Rachel De-lahay’s debut play, originally born out of the Royal Court Unheard Voices writers’ group, is in fact set in Battersea, an area that it’s sole white character, a model called George, insists on referring to as south Chelsea.
That, of course, brings it to the Royal Court’s own home patch, but the worlds both of Peckham and this play feel like a million miles away from the Sloane Square of Peter Jones and designer shops. Instead, there’s a corner shop, run by Pakistani-born Saghir, whose daughter Soriya is navigating the relationship tensions of dating mixed-race Marcus. Both Soriya and Marcus, in fact, had white mothers and De-lahay’s play is most powerful in dealing with their conflicting searches for a cultural identity as they try to work out whether they are compatible.
This is thrown into sharp relief when a local Asian girl is alleged to have been gang-raped by a group of black boys, an unseen event that drives the plot. It’s a bitty, impressionistic play that director Clint Dyer responds to by staging it in an intentionally bitty, impressionist way, with the action unfolding all around the rectangular room.
In the restless, constantly changing locations, the focus of the play is scattered further, but as this tapestry of London lives gathers and accumulates in detail, it becomes a flavoursome, pertinent and eventually powerful drama about London, love and race, punchily acted by a superb, mostly young cast and bracingly staged. 3 stars The Guardian, By Michael Billington, 11th November 2011
A couple of years ago, I sat in on a workshop for young Muslim writers offered as part of the Royal Court’s Unheard Voices programme. Out of that came this first play by Rachel De-lahay being presented in the bustling Bussey Building in London’s Peckham before moving to the Theatre Upstairs. And it makes for a lively, vigorous evening even if the production, which seats the audience in the middle of a large, rectangular space, sometimes leads to tennis-neck.
De-lahay has confronted a living issue: the tensions between black and Asian people living on a big Battersea estate. What sparks the crisis is the purported rape of a 14-year-old Asian girl by a black gang. This not only triggers local riots, but exposes the fissures in the relationship between the Pakistani Soriya and the African-Caribbean Marcus, who are of mixed-race parentage and have just moved in together. To complicate matters further, Soriya is torn between her lover and her white, flat-sharing, female best friend who goes by the name of George.
Too much plot is thrown into the pot; and I’m surprised that an intelligent woman like Soriya should be perturbed by an old biddy who tells her that “Asian girls should be for Asian men”. But De-lahay captures excellently the confusion of cultural identity in the modern world. Soriya may come from a Muslim family, but is a secularised clubber. Her boyfriend laughingly spurns the idea that he wants recipes from the Reggae Reggae Cookbook. Even white George claims to be more “street” than any Caribbean brother from the estate. In short, the play’s message is that the old racial categories today make little sense; and, even if Clint Dyer’s production is a bit hectic, Chetna Pandya as Soriya, Ray Panthaki as her brother and Fraser Ayres as her lover put De-lahay’s ideas across with enormous style. 4 stars Afridiziak, By Sophia A Jackson, 9th November 2011
The seating alone is a give-away that this isn’t going to be your bog standard theatre production. You know when you go to see a play and your stuck in a tiny seat for a couple of hours and it feels like your legs are about to seize up? Well there’s no chance of that with The Westbridge. Seats are a bit more spaced out but they are all faced in different directions so that you can move around as the play does in this unconventional theatre space.
Just as you’re getting settled, turning off your mobile phone and taking in the unusual surroundings of the Royal Court’s Theatre Local at the Bussey Building in Peckham it’s suddenly pitch black and we, the audience are in the thick of the action. There’s commotion and scuffles happening all around and it feels slightly uncomfortable. Welcome to Rachel De-lahay’s The Westbridge.
Set near a council estate called The Westbridge in SW11, the play focuses on the interwoven relationships between a black woman and her son, a mixed Asian family, a mixed raced man and his mixed Asian girlfriend and one white woman, neighbours in a south London microcosm.
Rumour has it that an Asian woman has been gang raped by a group of young black males on The Westbridge estate. Audrey, played by the wonderful Jo Martin is mother to one of the accused, Andre played with charisma and cheeky charm by Ryan Calais Cameron. Immediately she suspects her son is guilty and with a heavy heart decides to throw him out of the family home.
Old Westbridge resident, Marcus, played with aplomb by Fraser Ayres, is boyfriend of Soriya, an instantly likeable character played by Chetna Panya. Marcus has just moved in with his girlfriend and her bestie, Georgia a true girlie girl played by Daisy Lewis. The girlie goings-on and banter between Georgia and Soriya provide much of the plays humour and entertainment factor and their interaction is a joy to watch.
Incidents from the first meeting between Marcus and Soriya’s somewhat ignorant father, the goings on within a community adjusting to race relations and a volatile situation of a young girl being raped is ample fodder to keep things ticking along to the unexpected climax.
Under Clint Dyer’s direction, the play is intense and with no interval, this fast-paced production which lasts an hour and 50 minutes has you gripped by the neck from the get go. The multiple storylines are engaging – tackling sensitive and prickly issues of race and prejudice and cultural differences with ease as the audience squirms contemplating how we would handle our own opinions and judgements on the sensitive subject matters.
Congratulations to Rachel De-lahay, a joint winner of the 2010 Alfred Fagon award for playwrights of African-Caribbean descent. The Westbridge is her first play and it is an intelligent, funny, thought-provoking and relevant piece of theatre which you simply must-see.
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