a bit of this a touch of that
SW11: The Westbridge at the Royal Court
Rachel Delahay got it going on. Model, playwright, actress, joint winner of the Alfred Fagon award 2011 (which supports Black playwrights) and her debut play The Westbridge currently showing at Sloane Square’s Royal Court Theatre.
Formerly called SW11 – the better name – The Westbridge delves into the madness wrought on an estate when an Asian girl is allegedly raped by a gang of Black boys. Tension sets in, especially between the half-White half-Black Marcus and the half-White half-Pakistani Soriya. Can mixed raced couples ever be happy? Confusions rise higher as Soriya’s Sloane/Wigger flatmate Georgina battles with her ongoing love for Soriya’s brother, Ibi. All the while, sixteen-year-old Andre has been kicked out of home and is suspected of the rape. Clint Dyer’s production weaves the drama inducing none of the confusion involved in trying to summarise it in a few sentences.
The script is riveting – why can’t soap operas be this good?! – with some truly wonderful and original one liners (“I live in South Chelsea, not Battersea!”). At times the conversations are so slick and punchy that one couldn’t ever imagining them taking place in real life. But who cares. I watched the play completely unaware of this young woman’s credentials. Nothing about the characters or the script would have suggested that this was her first play. But then again, who else but a young person could have such precise insight into street slang and the culture of modern London and the youth of today. And who else but a young person would have the gumption to smash apart and stare taboos of today so glaringly in the face, without a shred of compunction. Rape, mixed race identity, mixed race couples, arranged marriages and vomiting up unchewed chips outside Dallas Chicken blend together to make a play that gives you all the buzz and insanity of a couple of quickly downed cans of Red Bull – it’ll leave you drained but exhilarated.
Delahay creates some loveable characters and manages to shy away from stereotypes. The casting is spot on and each actor brings a little magic to their character and their lines. Ryan Calais Cameron, as Andre, takes a while to find his flow and really standout but conveys the emotional cocktail of youth and being condemned of a crime well. Daisy Lewis’ tiny frame and blonde hair contrast with her loud, husky voice making for riotous entertainment and create a fitting disparity against the uncertainty and frailty she feels on the inside.
Ray Pathanki, as Ibi, shines during the dinner scene dialogue with Marcus (Fraser Ayres) – the two actors on opposite ends of the stage, which spans three sides of the square auditorium as well as some floor space – and is one of the many highlights in this short play. Chetna Pandya is every bit the strong, sexy and feisty Soriya, but it is the Goldie lookalike Fraser Ayres who really excels in this production. Ayres completely immerses himself in this role with vein-popping intensity and makes us squirm as we watch him trying to feel comfortable during the agonising and aforementioned dinner with Soriya’s family. The interactions between Andre’s mother Audrey (Jo Martin) and Soriya and Ibi’s father, Saghir (Ravi Aujla), are awkward and touching at the same time.
Ultz’s innovative design extends to the audience’s seating as well as the stage. The audience sits on chairs that are arranged at haphazard angles to the stage. The play’s action means that lots of swiveling in seats is required – welcome relief for someone such as I who has trouble sitting still: the older members of the audience certainly did not share this sentiment.
There were moments of inconsistency in the script when it was implied that Soriya’s family were Indian when, later on, it was made clear that they were from Pakistan. And later on there were moments when Indian/Pakistan/Asian were used interchangeably. This hair-splitting criticism notwithstanding, all who can must go and see this little gem: glorious and refreshing respite from the usual Christmas fare. Until 23rd December.
For the love of Bard: Richard II at the Donmar Warehouse
Here lies the end of an era – both on and off stage. Richard II as King of England and Michael Grandage as artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse. After almost a decade of ne’er erring productions, Grandage gives us Shakespeare’s Richard II. The stage has the hushed and sacrosanct air of a church after benediction. The King sits in meditation on his thrown and frankincense hangs in the air like a ghost
It is the end of the 1390s and King Richard is called on to settle the beef between Henry Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray. Sadly, the two sadly don’t get to joust out their issues and are exiled from the kingdom – Bolingbroke for six years and Mowbray forever. Mowbray’s anguish at the prospect of starting anew at 40 years old in a foreign land makes one realise how times have changed, though people may have not.
Andrew Buchan plays the role of usurper to the throne, Henry Bolingbroke and makes for a wonderful contrast (fire and water are used throughout as metaphors for the two men)– in body and speech – to the poetic and impulsive nature of Richard, played by Eddie Redmayne. Much of the text is written in rhyming couplets and it is thanks to the seamless delivery by the whole cast that we are able to savour them.
Eddie Redmayne is already making headway as an actor. It is easy, upon first glance, to label him as another pretty face. He has a refined Mick Jagger quality of sex appeal (full lips, narrow hips) mixed with some of the androgynous beauty that makes him perfect for a Burberry campaign.
Historically, Richard II was tall and beautiful. And young. He took to the throne aged 10 and reigned until he was deposed at 32. Redmayne – an acquired taste, despite obvious talent – personifies the erratic and impulsive boy king perfectly with face twitching and bursts of manic grinning thrown in between wild tempers. His face has a fantastic range that can transform from gently beautiful to contorted at a change of mood.
Redmayne and Pippa Bennett-Warner’s, as his Queen Isabel, chemistry suggests a relationship of equality and respect. While the two enact the relationship well enough, a lot is left mysterious. Bennett-Warner’s stage presence and performance are strong enough to leave one intrigued about this French queen and what is in store for her as an actress in future.
Great things can be expected ahead for many of the young members of the cast – the strapping Harry Atwell, Stefano Braschi, Andrew Buchan (character actor in the making?), Michael Marcus (not entirely convincing as the Abbot of Westminster), Ben Turner and Ashley Zhangazha, especially. An appearance in a Grandage production is a huge leg up to getting noticed, as it was for Tom Hiddleston in the Donmar/Grandage 2009 production of Othello.
Richard Kent’s superlative gold-tinged wooden set gives the Donmar’s relatively small stage an expanse one would not think it capable of. Its decadently medieval look pairs magnificently with the costumes that are simple but some of the most beautiful I have seen in any theatre production (and anywhere, actually) and the raw silk finery looks even more wonderful underneath David Plater’s lighting. Adam Cork’s score and sound was sparing but aptly placed.
Grandage knows a thing or two about how to stage a solid production of Shakespeare. No technological feats in stage design and lighting or time travel. Just period costumes, understated scenery and music, and acting talent that lets the text do all the talking.
Come if you love and cherish Shakespeare. Come even if you hate Shakespeare but appreciate stabbing, treason and plot, a good script and pretty actors who can act.
The season ends in February, but it is with stealth and cunning that you will have to get to see it. A show as superb as this one sells out in a second.