Review: The Westbridge, Royal Court

“Everyone lived perfectly happily round here together before you young ones try to integrate and confuse things”

First things first, Ultz’s staging upstairs at the Royal Court for The Westbridge is a piece of craziness. Most of the seating is in the centre with chairs pointing in all different directions and stages around the edge of the theatre. I found it highly frustrating as the structure of the show with its mutliple short scenes meant there was constant moving around in our seats and much huffing and puffing from a midweek matinee audience who generally weren’t up for it.

The play itself is very Royal Court Upstairs and I can totally see the logic in premiering it in Peckham as part of their Theatre Local initiative. I have to admit to turning down the chance to see it there several times as I was sure I didn’t want to see it. But I let people’s recommendations sway me and I’m glad I did, but I really do wish I’d seen it with a Peckham audience to see how it connected to a non-traditional audience (assuming it wasn’t full of regular Royal Court visitors going on the cheap!)

Rachel De-lehay’s play emerges as one of the best evocations of the complexity of modern London in terms of culture, ethnicity, religion and generations. On a South London estate, a young couple try to make sense of their mixed heritage, both have white mothers but she has a Pakistani father and he has a black father. But tensions are never far away around them and when a young Asian girl is raped and a black teenager named as the chief suspect, long-held prejudices rise to the fore as the line between truth and fiction becomes increasingly blurred.

Because our couple, Soriya and Marcus, know people on both sides, the stakes are raised and Chetna Pandya and Fraser Ayres are excellent here. Clint Dyer’s direction is rather bitty and disjointed given the set-up and so the resulting picture that we get is one of a collage being built up, ideas being explored and powerfully resonant messages being thrust across. Personally, I would have liked to see a more conventional staging for the play just for clarity’s sake and I’m glad the playtexts are such good value as it means I can read it at my leisure and see what I missed. But it was nice to have my expectations subverted thus and makes me realise that sometimes my first impressions of hearing about a play need to be challenged.

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes (without interval)
Playtext cost: £3
Booking until 23rd December

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