Down an alley off Rye Lane, two flights up in an old cricket bat factory is not where you expect to find a Royal Court-standard theatre show.
But “the Court” is on tour, and as it’s playing five minutes’ walk from this londonista’s house it seemed rude to miss it.
The Westbridge is a play perfectly suited to its SE15 location. Dealing with racial tensions on the eponymous South London housing estate, the script is peppered with exactly the same bluds, aksz and iz its as the streets outside.
Staged in an inverted ‘round’, the seating is scattered randomly within a raised platform running around the sides of the room – the stage. You could find yourself facing your neighbour, sitting side on, or looking at the back of their heads. Once the play begins, the audience is free to turn to face wherever the action is coming from, without disturbing those closest to them. Award-winning theatre designer Ultz has successfully innovated once again. The result ramps up the tension; as lights blaze bright, then flash and go out, you’re left unsure where the next explosive scene is going to come from – on the floor beside you, above and behind you, or over the other side of the room.
Written by Rachel De-lahay as part of the Royal Court’s Jerwood New Playwrights programme, this brand new play creates a world that is both familiar and unsettling, funny and upsetting. When Black teenager Andre is accused of being involved in an attack on a young Asian girl on the estate, the tensions in other people’s relationships stretch and simmer, as racial identities and loyalties are called into question.
And while there are some tinges of naivety in the play, this is more than compensated for by fantastic performances throughout the cast, lovely production (great costumes and lighting) and some wicked humour. De-lahay’s ear for dialogue is excellent; we particularly enjoyed the banter between the girls out clubbing, made all the more enjoyable by two fantastic performances by Chetna Pandya and Daisy Lewis. We felt these two girls were sisters of people we already knew, not creations put on stage.
Sadly, there are only a few tickets left to see the show in the Bussey Building before it closes on 19 November. Get in there quick (you can get some of the day tickets if you’re able to get to Peckham for around 5pm), as this is a show rich in many of the things that make sharp, modern London theatre great.
The Westbridge runs at the Bussey Bulding in Peckham until 19th November and then at Royal Court Theatre until 23rd December. Visit royalcourttheatre.com for more information. Londonist recieved a press ticket to see last night’s opening performance.