Peckham: the Soap Opera, which just opened at the Royal Court, may be a small play but it’s not afraid to tackle the big subjects of race relations, unemployment and gentrification which have become fundamental to a neighbourhood that is half-nervous and half-happy about landing the estate agents’ label of 'up-and-coming'.
Earlier in the summer, workshops took place in the Bussey Building, Peckham’s creative heart, to crowd-source stories and find performers for a series of plays to be broadcast nightly in five-minute episodes. The team of writers, led by Bola Agbaje and Rachel De-lahay, have now put these pieces together in an omnibus edition playing in Sloane Square over the next two weeks.
Due to the nature of the play’s evolution, it’s a pleasingly brisk whirl through the lives of a diverse set of locals, including Amir the surly shopkeeper, Lashanna the teeth-kissing hairdresser and Glenda who’s lost her cat. This finely-balanced community is then shaken up when an evil property developer arrives to buy everyone out so he can build luxury flats and bistros that sell 'ironic scotch eggs'.
If it’s all a bit broad, the high-tempo scene changes and a sprinkling of decent jokes take the pressure off an amateur cast who play themselves more or less as believably as anyone in Eastenders. Worthy rather than wonderful, there are still a few mad moments to enjoy: an explosion that comes out of nowhere and a surreal, sudden operatic blast of Gershwin’s Summertime.
The show is nicely staged with colourful projections of the streets and shops, which add to the feeling of civic pride. There are also sofas and beanbags for the audience so visiting Peckhamites can rub shoulders with local Sloane Rangers – perhaps someone should record those conversations and turn them into a follow-up.
If watching this gives you the urge to further explore Peckham, it's good timing since the Peckham and Nunhead Free Film Festival kicks off today. It seems like you just can’t keep an “up-and-coming” area down.
Peckham: the Soap Opera is on at the Royal Court until the 14 September, tickets £15 / £10. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.