STEP Young Critics Review 'The Westbridge'

The STEP Young Critics Programme, funded by the Financial Times, gives young people from Southwark secondary schools the chance to work with a professional journalist and learn the skills needed to be a theatre critic. In November 2011, the programme worked with students from Charter School, Dulwich, and Andrew Dickson (The Guardian). As part of the programme students have had free tickets to see shows from the Unicorn Theatre, Half Moon Young People’s Theatre, Southwark Playhouse, the Young Vic and Theatre Local. 

Here, we publish the work of two young critics who chose to review The Westbridge, the Royal Court's production which premiered at Theatre Local.

Review by Chloe Burrows

In the well presented, secularised Bussey Building in Peckham, De-lahay confronted the living issue of tensions between Black and Asian people living on the same Battersea estate in London. What sparks the crisis is the apparent rape of a 14-year-old Asian girl by a Black gang. Typically, the Black boy Andre is accused of this, due to his racial backgrounds and stereotypical views in today’s society. This not only triggers local riots, which reflects what happened in August 2011, but exposes the cracks in the relationship between the Pakistani Soriya and her mixed race boyfriend, Marcus, who have just moved in together causing some tension between Soriya’s father and partner. To complicate matters further, Soriya is torn between her lover and her White, flat-sharing, female best friend who goes by the name of George. George’s ‘snobby’ attitude definitely reflects those in London who feel they are more superior to everyone, when realistically, she lacks confidence and has yet to find her identity. Her typical wannabe model tasks provide a sense of humour to the audience, as she feels standing next to a “Dallas” chicken and chips takeaway will clog her pours, which could later affect her ‘delusional’ modelling career and ‘beautiful looks’. I am surprised and irritated that an intelligent woman like Soriya should be perturbed by a nosey old Asian woman who tells her that "Asian girls should be for Asian men" after Soriya willingly helps her with her shopping. This turns this mini world into a dystopia causing everything to fall down. As little as her part was, she did not fail to interlace her words throughout The Westbridge.
De-lahay captures excellently the confusion of cultural identity in the modern world, and tackles racial issues and individuals’ experience. Surprisingly, the audience is placed in the middle of the ‘stage’, some placed back to back or next to one another with the action surrounding the audience. Metaphorically, this symbolises what we are surrounded by in today’s society in London. Fortunately, I was placed on a swivel chair which I must admit provided easier access to face the action and changes in where the action was happening. This not only allowed the audience to watch The Westbridge, but to watch one another’s reactions: making you feel a part of The Westbridge with ‘no escape’. Unfortunately to the centre of the stage, some were placed on black chairs of which were stuck to the floor, which I could tell by the woman in front of me, was uncomfortable to face the different stations of action. The burnt out building definitely set the scene of ‘shabby’ and dirty London. Clint Dyer breaks the entire fourth wall and we are forced to be alerted from the outset. When the woman beside me starts screaming her bag has been taken, I could not make out if she was being serious or a part of the act.
Each character’s acting was absolutely incredible and extremely naturalistic. Soriya’s typical middle class approach was definitely reflected in the way she walked across the stage, spoke and her dress sense. Her smart and casual look contrasted with Andre’s typical teenage dress sense, consisting of a black tracksuit and a puff jacket with trainers. Soriya understands Andre’s struggle as not too long ago, she grew up on the same estate. Her father’s pushy attempt to get her a scholarship to get into one of the top universities is the only reason why Soriya can now be considered as ‘middle class’ and how she met her best friend, George. Drunken George attempts to make Soriya forget about her past life after their night out, telling her to stop talking to Andre, which determined and genuine Soryia ignores. Ryan Calais Cameron (Andre) was a phenomenal actor, his eagerness for independence definitely reflects boys in today’s society, who take on much more then they can handle.
Clint Dyer’s staging techniques reinforced the naturalism. The urban ‘funky house’ thumping music and flashing lights allowed the night club scene with only Soriya and George, leaving the audience to seem like the other members at the club, to be laced with imagination. The lack of props worked excellently with your imagination placing together what could have been there. The shop owned by Soriya’s father had only two boxes of Walkers crisp placed on top of each other, with his house and Andre’s house being symbolised by only a front door. Perhaps this was most practical due to a lot of stage movement. The transitions of the setting are the only criticism I have towards The Westbridge. Whilst a scene was going on in one corner of the stage, the other characters were slowly creeping behind you in dim lighting placing the props down for the next scene. As picky as it may seem, it is only constructive and something to work on, even if the black out on the transitions were darker with less noise it would make an improvement.
Soriya may come from a Muslim family, but is a secularised clubber who does not go for Muslim or Asian men. Her boyfriend laughingly spurns the idea that he wants recipes from the Reggae Reggae Cookbook and eager Soriya attempts to please him. However, Marcus confesses his confusion to his racial backgrounds due to his father “never being around” causing him to feel more in touch with his ‘White side’. The confusion of racial backgrounds was definitely emphasised by De-Lahey. Even White George claims to be more ‘street’ than any Caribbean ‘brother’ from the estate claiming she loves ‘curry goat’ (a Jamaican dish), more than anyone. The mother’s heartache at the rumours of her son being portrayed as a rapist leaves you helplessly sympathetic, wanting to tell her the truth. In short, the play's message is that the old racial categories today make little sense; and, even if Clint Dyer's production is a bit hectic, Chetna Pandya as Soriya, Ryan Cameron as Andre and Fraser Ayres as her lover put De-lahay's ideas across with enormous style and naturalism.

Review by George Toohe

The story of The Westbridge, written by Rachel De-lahay, is helped delightfully by a wonderful cast with a range of different and unique talents. Along with the amazing enticing storyline, genius of a director, whose exploration skills are remarkable and truly sensational acting. The Westbridge is by far the play to see this year.

The Westbridge is set in modern-day England. The play kicks off by breaking the fourth wall and making the audience question reality or acting. It is a play outlining the racial abuse in South London, and showing the hardships between interracial relationships. You enter the burnt-up room to discover the play will be performed around you and that you’re on swivel chairs. This is an amazing example of the genius who is Clint Dyer.

The Westbridge is set in and around the Westbridge estate, and mainly involves characters of different races and religions: a black man, white woman and an Indian family. Are all caught up in the controversy, of a rumour sparked because of an interracial relationship, which results in rioting, and outburst throughout the Westbridge estate, and the South of London. With the media aggravating the situation, tensions arise and this sparks doubt in another couple who had recently just moved in with each other. This also consists of a Black male and an Indian female.

Overall The Westbridge is a truly sensational play, helped ever more by dramatic lighting and enthusiastic young actors.