The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted
by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others
by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review
the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
BBC iPlayer May 2021
play, first seen at the fringe Theatre 503 in 2019 and transferring to
the West End for a limited run in summer 2021, was recorded for BBC4 and
is available on BBC iPlayer.
Set in the
annual Notting Hill Carnival, it is both a celebration and an analysis
of cultural, racial, class and sexual identity.
non-Londoners: the event, started in the 1960s to salute Caribbean
culture, has grown into a two-day mix of parades, street concerts and
general celebration, occasionally marred by violence. Joseph's title is
an alternative word for carnival, possibly based on the French Caribbean
word for dawn, implying an all-day event.)
The two central
characters, ordinary working women during the year, are first seen
strutting in full feathers-and-bangles costumes in the parade. One
(Gabrielle Brooks) is looking forward to a dance contest later in the
day, while the other (Sapphire Joy) will be speaking at a political
In the course
of the day they meet with an Asian friend (Annice Boparai), flirt with a
couple of guys, react to the commercialisation represented by overpriced
street food, dance to a DJ (Zuyane Russell) and encounter drunken white
onlookers, older black guys, the spirit of the Carnival's founder and
others, all played by Brooks and Joy in quick changes of character.
always high-energy, the play pauses only occasionally to make some of
its serious points, as when the ghostly founder insists that the girls
recognise that celebrating their cultural past is a political act in
play's strongest insight is that what may seem separate plot strands –
the women cope with passing bits of racism, class snobbery, sexism and
casual violence – are actually interrelated in the whole package that is
the black British experience.
greatest strength is, however, its greatest theatrical weakness, because
what we may eventually come to understand is a complex but unified
vision is a little too scattershot as we experience it.
With the action
jumping from happy moments to pensive ones, and the women no sooner
coping with a racist slur than they encounter a disapproving church lady
or a horny guy or the demanding ghost or the rip-off food seller, the
play can feel like it's spinning off in a bunch of different directions
without a centre.
Murrell's production has been restaged for multiple cameras and,
although recorded in the stage of the Harold Pinter Theatre, gives very
little sense of a live theatrical performance.
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