The Finborough theatre’s annual Vibrant festival returned yesterday for a fifth consecutive year. Vibrant 2013 seeks to showcase new plays by talent “discovered, developed or championed by the Finborough Theatre” through a series of rehearsed readings of new full length works for the stage, performed by some of the finest actors and directors in the industry. This was my first visit to the Vibrant festival, following word of mouth in previous years and I was not disappointed.
Death in Whitbridge is written and directed by award-winning playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell (whose deeply moving and thought provoking play The Pride is currently running at the Trafalgar Studios) and interestingly this was the first play written by him.
This dark comedy is an eclectic mix of many different elements and emotions, from highly comedic scenes verging on farce, through the spectrum to far darker emotional moments, all of which were performed in one Act by the talented cast. Indeed the pace of the play results in changes of tone so sudden that, as an audience, you are left so surprised it’s hard to know what to expect next, which I found to be both exciting and intriguing, if not totally surreal!
Set in the English idyll of Whitbridge, the play takes place in the home of Donald and Elizabeth Wallis (a double act superbly played by David Horovitch and Marion Bailey), who are awaiting the arrival of their son Fred (the terrific as usual Adam James) for Sunday lunch. Elizabeth is particularly nervous about this visit as Fred is bringing his new girlfriend Fatima and apparently has important news for his parents – oh and there’s also the matter of the spate of murders in the area and the appearance of various body parts amongst the rose bushes and vegetable patches of the Whitbridge residents!
And so begins an exploration of the prejudices that exist in today’s society, and in fact far more than you expect, as this is not simply a play tackling racial prejudice but one which also tackles everything from how we feel about those of other cultures and backgrounds, to gender dysphoria (the addition of lipstick by the actor involved was a nice extra touch of detail for the evening!), to our perception as to what really makes us a civilised society. The play highlights all these issues brilliantly through often extremely dark comedy and scenes which feel so uncomfortable that the audience (or me anyway!) was very aware that it shouldn’t really be laughing.
One of the characters, a young girl of African origin (played by Natasha Gordon), repeatedly voices the mantra she has lived by as she has struggled through life – that she is somebody. Death In Whitbridge forces its audience to take a hard look at the world in which we live and whether all is really as we think it is. Through its exploration of the varying prejudices that some people live their lives by (whether they realise it or not), the play highlighted to me that, sadly, through some people’s eyes, not everybody is somebody and only those people they can understand and feel akin to really matter to them and that in fact our society, which we like to believe is multi-cultural and open minded and an example of the civilised world, may actually be far less civilised than we would all like to admit.
There may possibly be slightly too many issues tackled here, although perhaps in a full production (possibly with two Acts, as this reading was far longer than the billed 75 minutes) certain elements may not seem as rushed. I particularly thought that the final section of the play felt a little too hurried. However, the reading was performed superbly by the cast, with the dynamics between the Wallis family and Fatima presented brilliantly by the actors involved. It’s hard to say too much without ruining the play – suffice to say that from the moment Fred and Fatima arrive the audience knows that all is not going to go smoothly! As the play progresses characters continue to arrive and I particularly liked the Wallis’s neighbour (played superbly by Jenny Galloway) and her nephew “JC” (Ben Lamb) who has his own interesting part to play in the proceedings and the scene between him and Adam James was particularly comedic.
I thought this was a fantastic experience and I sincerely hope this play is developed in to a full production one day, ideally with as many of the central cast returning as possible. It certainly left me with lots to think about, which is always the sign of a great play for me. This is definitely one to look out for in the coming years.
Vibrant 2013 continues at the Finborough Theatre, London until 25th October. Tickets for all seats are only £4. It’s definitely worth a visit!