The Bunker Theatre has had a makeover: this time the audience are on stage. People mill about holding drinks and chatting beneath the colourful lighting, beer barrels and ripped up rock concert style posters. Throughout the evening, three different actors take to raised platforms amid the crowd to perform new unseen pieces, each by a different writer. At the beginning of the piece, the audience is asked to re-shuffle: “black women to the front row”, “black working class people to the front row”, “white men stand back”. This is emblematic of the writer's attitude to race. Race is not static in this theatre, it is something that relates us to each other; to be white is not a neutral thing.
As standalones, the pieces are strong, with rhythmic writing and affecting stories, but the interaction between them stands out and meant that the issues raised were constantly re-stated and questioned themselves. This affect worked well in Zia Ahmed’s piece where she asked the audience if the only reason we find the first piece My White Best Friend so moving is because it is coming from a white actor. If we can only listen to a black writers' complaints about race through a white mouth, we can only empathise with black struggle from a white perspective. Zainab Hasan’s performance of Ahmed’s work was incredible, with her taking on multiple caricatures of politicians, police officers and actors and capturing the intensity of a story of racial profiling.
It was difficult to tell what these pieces hoped to achieve. The first two pieces focused on the personal relationships between BAME and white people and seemed far more addressed to a white audiences' failure to understand race issues, rather than on offering comfort to BAME people who face these issues. However, it seems unlikely to me that the majority of the audience are people who needs to hear this message. To some extent it seems these pieces simply congratulate the audience for caring about these injustices enough to come to a theatre production about them. Perhaps My White Best Friend would work better within a set of monologues on other issues, rather than simply addressing race, in order to draw an audience who do not think enough about race to go to a theatre production about it. Once again Ahmed’s piece stood out in this respect, playing more to a BAME audience than a white one, with jokes about BAME comedians who play on stereotypes in order to satisfy a majorly white audience.
These monologues are outstanding drama, which highlight the problems faced by BAME people within interracial friendships. They question and undermine themselves dynamically and they leave the audience with an understanding of the complexity of racial dynamics.
Edited by Evangeline Stanford, Digital Editor
My White Best Friend (And Other Letters Left Unsaid)
till Saturday the 23rd of March