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.