The setting is one building in Brixton. The subject is tradition, family, community and change. A cast of four men and two women bring the play to life.
We begin in the Nine Nights funeral parlour, started up in 1971 to bring West Indian burial and memorial traditions to London, to serve the Windrush generation.
As Keron tries to persuade his dad, Clarence, that their client base has literally died out, a generational and cultural conflict takes place. The whole first act is set with this family, at this time.
Later, we discover how Elmorn, Clarence’s father, bought out and changed another long-standing Brixton tradition, a pub run by generations of the family O’Driscoll.
The writing is finely balanced, with black comedy rubbing shoulders with moments pitched to sadden and shock. Nothing is held back or sugar coated as we watch a neighbourhood change, people come and go, from one room.
By the time the story almost moves full circle, with an aged Clarence sitting, bewildered, in the new wine bar that has displaced his service to his people, his “place for we”, we have seen a lifetime of evolution, of bigotry, of difficult attempts to assimilate.
There are small touches which bring the three acts together. Sons, mothers, fathers. Memories and candles. The ending of life, and the celebration of it. Keron’s attempt to move with the times with his pregnant white girlfriend. The young Clarence, with Trinidadian blood in his born-English veins.
Archie Maddocks has crafted a wonderfully epic play, which understands that eacb character has a backstory and a voice. His grasp of the tradition of both wake and bar-room gives A Place For We a sense of truth and place.
Originating as a staged reading at Talawa Firsts in 2018, this full production is directed by Michael Buffong and designed by Louie Whitemore (set/costumes), Sherry Coenen (lighting), and Tony Gayle (sound).
The performances both provoke and touch the audience. David Webber’s displaced Clarence, Joanna Horton’s pub landlady with a broken heart, Laurence Ubong Williams’s frustrated Keron, Blake Harrison’s pub landlord lashing out at something to which he cannot connect.
Even in a smaller role, Harold Addo’s teenage Clarence gives us an understanding of the man he became, while Kirsty Oswald’s Tasha sits awkwardly on the fringes as peacemaker between the generations.
This play runs in excess of 150 minutes, including interval, but richly repays your attention. You can watch A Place for We at the Park Theatre until 6 November: book your tickets here.
Image credit: Mark Douet