The Westbridge

3 out of 5 stars

Peckham hipsters can congratulate themselves on their new theatre. It lurks like a strip bar behind its red neon sign, but this ex-cricket bat factors has been transformed into a gritty urban playground by the Royal Court, keen to take its new writing out to the south London estates that inspire so much of it.

Rachel De-lahay’s debut play is set in Battersea, on the Westbridge estate, where racial tensions are ramped up by a rumour that an Asian schoolgirl has been raped – gang-raped perhaps – by local black kids. As in Bola Agbaje excellent 2007 Court play, ‘Gone Too Far’, the theme is inter-racial relationships and identities. Here, it’s examined through the mixed up relationship of a mixed race couple: White/Asian Cambridge grad, Soriya, and her White/Afro-Caribbean boyfriend, Marcus.

Chetna Panya gives a hugely attractive performance as Soriya – and Ryan Calais Cameron shows great talent as Andre, the articulate malcontent black kid at the centre of that devastating rumour. And Paul Bhattacharjee makes the most of the most maturely-written role, Soriya’s Pakistani shopkeeper father.

The audience is plunged into the middle of the action by Ultz’s impressive set, which sends the actors reeling on a gangway around the room. De-lahay shows promise too, although the plot’s a bit thin in this schematic debut and the issues stick out like sore thumbs. But her talent for writing argumentative all-guns-blazing dialogue should make her a shoe-in as a TV writer.

It’s refreshing to see a play about London teens that isn’t too stabby, but Clint Dyer’s energetic production is too shouty and the potentially subtler characters, like Andre’s suspicious mother and Soriya’s brother, who has just made an arranged marriage, are overshadowed by the more raucous ones – like Soriya’s mouthy blonde flatmate, George (Daisy Lewis). This looks and sounds like a vivid, multi-ethnic episode of ‘EastEnders’ – but there has obviously been a lot of serious thought behind the scenes.


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