Roy Williams's complex, heartbreaking new play is full of the presence of a woman we hardly see: Sylvia, a veteran of the Windrush generation, who lies upstairs dying as her two daughters struggle with her legacy.
Marcia (a self-contained and confident Suzette Llewellyn) has internalised her mother's admonishments that a Black woman needs to work twice as hard as her white counterparts, and is a successful barrister who's having an affair with a white politician. Her sister Dawn (a compelling fiery Cherrelle Skeete) isn't so compliant. She cherishes memories of being on the frontline in the Brixton riots, and nurses fury at the British establishment that nearly deported her ageing mother.
Marcia and Dawn are opposites in so many ways. But they always feel like real sisters, thanks to tender moments – beautifully rendered in director Paulette Randall's production – where they bump boobs together like brash teenagers, or dance to the cheesy manufactured pop they can't help loving, just as they can't help loving each other.
Still, their sisterly bond is stretched to breaking point by Dawn's partner Tony (Trevor Laird), a charming but infuriating saxophone player who's full of a selfish need to live exactly as he pleases. And Dawn's son Jermaine (Ethan Hazzard) tests Dawn's patience too, with his white girlfriend Simone (Rosie Day) seemingly leading him into the path of danger.
Williams's play has this brilliant, slowly unfurling quality where every conversation is freighted with a tension that takes a while to reveal its cause. As Simone complains, the members of this family rarely come straight out and say what they want. And it's also full of subtle echoes and resonances between each of its three generations, each differently scarred by moments of violence at the hands of white society.
Much like its fantasy namesake, ‘The Fellowship’ is one of those stories that you emerge from feeling like you've gone on an epic journey with the people in it. It's full of moments that stretch out and become dreamlike, aided by designer Libby Watson's wonderfully surreal set with its long curving staircase. But it's also full of a political heft that punches through decades and speaks directly to the post-Brexit present day. Williams's recent 'Death of England' trilogy at the National Theatre put Black masculinity under the microscope: this play shows he's just as strong on Black sisterhood, and the profound stresses it comes under.