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Shebeen (Theatre Review) Shebeen (Theatre Review)
3.5
Shebeen (Theatre Review)

In his riveting award winning book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, author Yuval Noah Harari asks how did our species succeed in the battle for dominance over his Neantherdal cousin? One of the answers he postulates is that the more agile brained sapiens was intolerant of his neighbour and simply, well wiped them out.

 

1958 was not different in man’s attitude to his newly arrived neighbours. Unfettered by legislation and leftist leaning liberals and potential heavy fines, the average Briton could vent his spleen on all manner of issues from sexuality, the Irish and of course most of all the newly arrived immigrant.

 

In St Anne’s, a poor working class area of Nottingham, ex-boxer George (Karl Collins) and his enterprising if somewhat ?? wife Pear (Martina Laird) run illegal drinking cum dance parties known locally as Shebeens to make ends meet as well as save for Pearl’s dream restaurant.

 

This musical drinking den is also a haven and refuge for the immigrants from the brooding hostile environment (pre dating Teresa May) they the face daily on the streets that were supposed to be paved with gold rather than their blood.

 

The motley crew of revellers longing for their sunny homelands but coming to the uncomfortable realisation that their roots have taken to ground in Mother England include sharp dressing Earnest (Rolan Bell), who gives a fine comedic performance to the feisty and ambitious Gayle (Danielle Walters).

 

Director Matthew Xia, reveals the complexities and price of cross racial romance through the starry eyed relationship of Mary (Chleo Harris) and her ever hopeful Jamaican lover Linford (Theo Solomon) whose doomed relationship is brought to a violent and bloody end at the hands of both the local thugs baying for black blood and town’s uncaring s racist police.

 

Inspired by the Windrush generation, Mufaro Makubika’s clever and incisive story telling shines a light on a community and a nation under siege both real and intangible. The newly arrived afraid to walk to streets with danger lurking at every turn. The poor white population fearing that their fragile meagre post war existence and jobs will be swept from under feet by the incessant but non-existent yet unstoppable ‘black tide’ that appears to be sweeping across the nations.

 

This is poignantly demonstrated through Mrs Clark (Hazel Ellerby), mother of Mary and by for me whose brief but stellar performance stole the show. Through her words and actions she was both deeply racist and both deeply sympathetic to the plight of Black Britons all in the same breath.

 

Enjoyable as play was, it covered a lot of old ground about homesickness, unmet dreams etc, stories that are well known and better explored in other productions.  I wished that the writer had spent more time delving into the ‘white psyche’ so that past and current generations could better understand why they were so fearful of what would only have been a handful of blacks?

 

With fine performance all round, including Karl Haynes as the liberal minded policeman Sergeant Williams, I would recommend all to see Shebeen, not only just to continue the celebrations of the Windrush generation. But also to get a real sense of racial attitudes of post war and pre Brexit Britain before the disguising veneers of liberalism, multiculturalism and mealy mouthed statues were thickly applied.

 

20 June – 7 July Shebeen, Theatre Royal, Stratford East, E15 1BN, 7.30pm, £10+ Visit http://www.stratfordeast.com/whats-on/all-shows/shebeen for details. 

Photo credit Richard Hubert Smith

 

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