‘Whitewash’ review

Theatre, Drama
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
Whitewash, Soho
© The Other Richard

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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Sharp drama from Gabriel Bisset-Smith exploring mixed-race identity and the gentrification of London

Gabriel Bisset-Smith’s ‘Whitewash’ is a moving, political exploration of what it means to belong when your sense of identity, race and even family are unclear.

In a show inspired by his own life, Bisset-Smith plays Lysander, the white son of a mixed-race woman. A real estate developer, he has undoubtedly benefited from the privilege his white-passing provides. But he also feels disconnected from his black Jamaican heritage.

Mary (Rebekah Murrell) is his mother – who we meet as a young woman in ’80s Camden: similarly lost, trying to find her own place in a racist society that rejects her blackness and questions her mothering of a white-looking child.

Neither of them quite fit into London, but Mary finds a sense of belonging when they visit her father in Jamaica, while Lysander finally learns what it’s like to be seen as a minority.

In the present-day sections of ‘Whitewash’, set after the  Grenfell Tower tragedy, a twentysomething Lysander is fighting to protect the estate he grew up on from demolition by profit-seeking housing developers. In the past we see an impoverished Mary and infant Lysander in 1980s Camden Town which, with its punks, mods and Rastas was more integrated then than its current form as an expensive north London tourist trap full of luxury flats and hotels.

Looking at London’s changing landscape through the intersection of class and race, ‘Whitewash’ exposes the inequality that is such a pressing issue in the capital today. It challenges the gentrification that’s encroaching on established communities while offering an intimate exploration of mixed-heritage family relationships. Bisset-Smith’s characters’ breaking of the fourth wall and much tongue-in-cheek irony provides a light, comedic counterbalance to the heavier, but important, politics that underpin the story.

Using reggae, blues, drum ’n’ bass, techno and pop, composer Asaf Zohar makes the soundtrack become a thumping heartbeat of the city; a beat to which both coked-up Lysander and soul-searching Mary can finally dance as one. The projection of city streets and housing estates by Daniel Denton provides an energised visual backdrop while artwork by Jenny Gordon – Bisset-Smith’s real mum – offers a powerful depiction of Mary’s struggle to find acceptance in white society both as an artist and as a black woman.

With strong direction from Charlotte Bennett, Lysander and Mary left a lasting impact on the mind of this north Londoner.

BY: ZOE MARGOLIS

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