The Fellowship: Highly charged look at the children of Windrush
- Credit: Robert Day
In this charged world premiere, Roy Williams explores the question of what it means to be Black and British as the second and third generation of Windrush.
The timbre of his dialogue - Caribbean dialect, street slang, middle-class rhetoric - is the litmus test of identity.
Williams tackles the question of racial definitions through the polarized characterization of two sisters: barrister Marcia (Suzette Llewellyn), who’s entangled in an affair with a white man, and working class Dawn (Cherrelle Skeete), who’s managing the conflicting demands of her philandering husband Tony (Trevor Laird), her son Jermaine (Ethan Hazzard) and his spiky white girlfriend Simone (Rosie Day), and a dying Caribbean mother. She remains hidden at the top of a sweeping staircase on Libby Watson's superb set that melds mid-century modernism with Busby Berkley-esque fantasy.
The complexity of holding onto a cherished heritage while pushing against prejudice is given formidable voice through Skeete’s performance - particularly impressive given her casting was as a last-minute stand-in. She's a hugely likeable and dynamic presence on stage – righteous, self-deprecating, vulnerable – younger than the role, yet she transcends those preconceptions.
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Director Paulette Randall lets the dialogue rip – references to the Brixton riots and Broadwater Farm frontline come thick and fast as characters slam down past activism. A more restrained handling of the histrionics would have helped steer a path through a narrative that's overloaded with backstory. How many reveals can a play take: a barrister implicated in drink driving, a son hiding the truth about his brother's death, historic sexual betrayals? When characters aren’t offloading soap opera-style reveals, they are blaming one another for inadequate parenting, sibling rivalries, or marital misdemeanours.
Still, when the going gets tough, there’s always dancing. Alexa, our 21st Century house device, is suggested through two huge neon-lit rings. Marcia and Dawn shout out requests from Dawn’s favourite playlist – white bands from the 80s and 90s. Dawn’s incendiary refusal to apologise for her taste is the best speech in the play as Williams flags up the massive strides the Windrush children and grandchildren continue to make.
The Fellowship runs at Hampstead Theatre until July 23. Visit www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/2022/the-fellowship/