Black is­sues, grey area

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

STATE­MENT OF RE­GRET Cottes­loe Theatre, Lon­don SE1

NO ONE messes with the Jews, says Adrian, the young, black, Ox­ford­e­d­u­cated in­tern who works for a black pol­icy think-tank in Kwame KweiArmah’s play about black Bri­tain. “Or if they do,” he says, “they’re wary, even scared.”

It is not the first time Kwei-Armah has com­pared Bri­tish blacks with Bri­tish Jews in or­der to ex­am­ine the con­di­tion of this coun­try’s black com­mu­nity.

In pre­vi­ous plays — Elmina’s Kitchen and Fix Up — the au­thor’s cho­sen ter­ri­tory was the cor­ro­sive ef­fects of black-on-black crime and the com­mu­nity’s lack of in­ter­est in cul­ture that is not pop. Here, KweiArmah’s con­cern is the fis­sure that ex­ists be­tween Bri­tain’s black African com­mu­nity and this coun­try’s longestab­lished Afro-Caribbeans.

For Kwaku Macken­zie (an ex­cel­lent Don War­ring­ton), the founder of the in­flu­en­tial In­sti­tute of Black Pol­icy Re­search in whose of­fices the play is set, white racism was why he created the think tank, and white racism re­mains the great­est en­emy to his peo­ple. Ex­cept that the def­i­ni­tion of who his peo­ple are is chang­ing.

That ques­tion of iden­tity is em­bod­ied by Kwaku (born Derek) him­self, whose her­itage is West In­dian but whose welle­d­u­cated staff hail mainly from Africa. Or as Idrissa (Chu Omam­bala), the think tank’s gay di­rec­tor of re­search, puts it, if white racism is the cause of black dis­ad­van­tage, why do Bri­tish chil­dren of African de­scent do bet­ter at school than chil­dren from West In­dian fam­i­lies?

Then there are the per­sonal pol­i­tics of Kwaku — who has turned to the bot­tle fol­low­ing his fa­ther’s death — and that of his fam­ily. His wife, Lola (Ellen Thomas), is Nige­rian and their son, Ju­nior (Javone Prince), is less favoured than Kwaku’s il­le­git­i­mate other son — the afore­men­tioned Adrian (Clif­ford Sa­muel), who is of wholly West In­dian de­scent.

Though th­ese fas­ci­nat­ing is­sues are ar­tic­u­lately ex­pressed, Jeremy Her­rin’s pro­duc­tion is only fit­fully ab­sorb­ing — partly be­cause the steril­ity of the play’s of­fice set­ting. And al­though Kwei-Armah is ad­mirably look­ing to un­der­mine stereo­types and as­sump­tions, there is some­thing for­mu­laic about how his ob­jec­tive is reached here.

But, he is still the most in­tel­li­gent writer on his sub­ject and it’s not for noth­ing he bears com­par­i­son to Au­gust Wil­son and even Arthur Miller.

CANDLESTICKS Pen­tame­ters, Lon­don NW3

WHEN I first saw Deborah Free­man’s fam­ily drama at North Lon­don’s Lion and Uni­corn theatre a cou­ple of years ago, I said that this play was full of dra­matic po­ten­tial.

This re­vival di­rected by Jackie Skarvel­lis con­firms that view, but also re­in­forces the sense that Free­man’s char­ac­ters are so oddly mo­ti­vated, you spend most of the play sus­pend­ing dis­be­lief.

Jenny (Deborah Leveroy) has re­turned home to her ob­ser­vant Jewish mother, Louise (Pearl Mars­land), with the news that she has con­verted to Chris­tian­ity. Louise’s neigh­bour is Ju­lia (Kate Worth), whose Jewish fa­ther was os­tracised when he mar­ried her gen­tile mother, and whose feck­less son, Ian (James Weisz), de­cides to con­vert to Ju­daism.

The legacy of faith and re­li­gion gives plenty to ex­plore. But so badly be­haved are th­ese peo­ple, you just end up not car­ing. When Jenny gives the Shab­bat candlesticks to her child­hood sweet­heart Ian, she knows how much it will hurt her mother. Worse, Ian ac­cepts the gift de­spite Louise’s pleas. And why Louise would stay friends with the an­ti­semitic Ju­lia is im­pos­si­ble to fathom. No it’s not, Free­man needs the con­flict for drama. But if you don’t be­lieve the con­flict, you can’t be­lieve the drama.

For an in­ter­est­ing mo­ment the con­verted Jenny, who gives away the fam­ily sil­ver, seemed like a mod­ern­day Jes­sica from The Mer­chant of Venice. But the thought drowned in the con­trived com­plex­ity of the play. (Tel: 020 7435 3648)

THIS LAT­EST mu­si­cal based on the back cat­a­logue of a pop-group fails to an­swer the first ques­tion posed by this type of show — how do you marry plot and mu­sic when each was writ­ten with­out a thought for the other?

It can work. Take Our House, which was based on the mu­sic of Mad­ness.

But this stage ver­sion of the film that starred Madonna and Rosanna Ar­quette (here with Kelly Price and Emma Wil­liams) never gets out of the blocks be­cause An­gus Jack­son’s pro­duc­tion al­most needs a crow­bar to wedge Blondie’s mu­sic into the story about a bored, sub­ur­ban house­wife who gets mis­taken for a drifter. Great mu­sic, though. (Tel: 0870 950 0935)


Clif­ford Sa­muel as Adrian and Don War­ring­ton as Kwaku in State­ment of Re­gret at the Cottes­loe

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