I had heard good things about Shebeen, a new play by Mufaro Makubika that was commissioned by Adam Penford the artistic director of Nottingham Playhouse and was encouraged to see it when it arrived at Theatre Royal Stratford East - I was not disappointed.It really is a moving, shocking, captivating and emotionally-charged piece of modern theatre.
|Martina Laird Karl Collins|
Set in 1958 during a hot, humid summer, Jamaican couple Pearl and George are helping Caribbean migrants to cut loose at their Shebeen – a forbidden party where drinks flow, music plays, food is plentiful, and carefree attitudes roam.
On a night fuelled by rum, calypso and dancing, the Shebeen is under threat from the police, and as tensions build everyone is forced to confront some uncomfortable truths -truths that tolerated signs reading, ‘no Irish, no blacks, no dogs’ and hard-core, outright racism.
|Karl Haynes Martina Laird|
Inspired by the Windrush generation, Shebeen shines a light on a community under siege, whether it is by the police, their neighbours, the man in the pub or Teddy boys in the street.
Stunningly directed by Matthew Xia, who creates a beautiful atmosphere of controlled tension in a society under stress and anxiety. Karl Collins and Martina Laird as husband and wife, Pearl and George lead a tight ensemble, with funny yet emotionally- charged performances. Karl Haynes as Sergeant Williams, a conflicted policeman attempting to do his job in a troubled society is thoroughly believable and played with tenderness and undoubted pain. With no plot spoilers, Chloe Harris as Mary and Theo Solomon as Linford, the young couple enjoying an interracial love affair are both funny and heart-breaking to watch as their story unfolds.
|Chloe Harris Martina Laird|
Shabeen’s strength lies in a fascinating, yet sadly true story, that leaves you invested in the characters and, at the same time shocked and ashamed that this scenario was part of our heritage only 60 years ago and still is part of the living memory of people still alive today. It is a must-see piece of theatre that is relevant, tender, joyous yet hard-hitting, painful and severely uncomfortable, and has enormous resonance today.
Shebeen runs at the Theatre Royal Stratford East until 7 July