- Lyric Theatre Hammersmith
- 18th June - 24th July 2021
The Lyric Hammersmith Theatre reopens with a triple bill of three plays set in the local area of Hammersmith — Out West. The theatre itself is large and contemporary, having been recently refurbished shortly before the onset of the pandemic, and boasts a delightful terrace area for taking the air during the interval. The production features three independent monologues set at different points of West London history, structured around the common narrative of racism and self-realisation. The set design is stark and minimal and works well for all the plays.
The evening started with The Overseas Student, a play about eighteen-year-old Mohandas Gandhi (Esh Alladi) as he arrives in London for the first time. Equipped with the advice and support of his family, if not his wider community and caste, Gandhi arrived determined to avoid the ‘corrupting’ influence of the western world. The narrative (written by Tanika Gupta) has a distinct coming-of-age air as we experience the inner monologue of an intelligent and devoted individual whilst he navigates life in Imperialist Britain. The plot and progression seemed to wane in the middle half of the play, at times feeling dull and uninsightful; however, Esh Alladi’s performance as Gandhi was filled with an energy and range that fought to keep our attention. Ultimately, the play lacked a punch that cannot be easily explained by historic context, but the performance was enjoyable nonetheless.
After a short interval, the second play of the evening: Blue Water and Cold and Fresh, starts off featuring Tom Mothersdale as Jack, an unassuming History teacher from London. Set at the beginning of what was to become a series of national lockdowns and in the wake of the widespread Black Lives Matter protests, Simon Stephens’s (writer) monologue (inspired by Emmanuella Cole) explores the perspective of a white man as he visits his late father’s old houses in Hammersmith. The play deals with nuanced issues around inter-racial marriage, gender and attraction in a relatable and, sometimes, humorous way; but essentially this is a personal journey for Jack. Mothersdale was convincing and compelling in the role, capturing the awkward reality of socially distanced etiquette and conversation well, but there was little variation in the portrayals that the narrative called for. Overall, the plot provided both funny and harrowing moments in measure and retained a clarity and an authenticity that can easily be lost when dealing with politically and emotionally charged issues such as racism and estranged familial relations.
The final play of the evening, Go, Girl, by Roy Williams was half the length of the first two features but was the clear stand-out for me. Donna (Ayesha Antoine) is a Westfield security guard suffering from feelings of isolation and judgement at the start of the pandemic. The trigger was, of course, a Zoom meeting. Having been selected to sing for first lady Michelle Obama in her school days, Donna attends her school Zoom reunion to have it out with her old friend that found success in photography (sorry, visual arts) following her submission of a photo of Donna to a competition. Antoine tells us the story in a way that immediately grabs the audience and does not let go until the end of the night: her portrayal of Donna is relatable in the extreme, and the monologue, filled with aphorisims, gets the whole room laughing. The plot is a realistic take on motherhood and self-acceptance in a society that judges discriminantly and implicitly.
For those interested in London, and the people who live within it, these plays are a must see. Whilst the trio were not particularly rosy in outlook, the final play reset this somewhat and left me with a geniality that remained as I, too, wandered back out into the streets of Hammersmith.