It is the summer of 2017 and the girl from Herne Hill has been preparing a dance number in the hope of becoming the queen of the Notting Hill carnival. She is doing it in honour of her Caribbean ancestors and to win a trip to St Lucia. Her fearless friend Jade, played with gusto by Sapphire Joy, has come to support her.
J’Ouvert – the name given for the official start of the carnival – revolves around the two young women’s friendship and their efforts to preserve their traditions while finding their voice in a dominating white male society.
This perceptive race-charged debut by Yasmin Joseph, who won the James Tate Black Award for drama last year, is awash with catchy tunes – thanks to a very pregnant DJ Zuyane Russell – and movements, but a musical it is not.
The music picks up and goes away, leaving space for a script that tackles the subtleties of inter-communities tensions, gentrification and sexism.
The trauma of the Grenfell Tower fire is in everyone’s mind – a powerful minute of silence is observed live on stage – and at every turn, Jade and Nadine, deftly portrayed by Gabrielle Brooks, are confronted with the reality of their social and cultural belonging.
Nadine is challenged by the arrival of Nisha (Annice Boparai), the woke middle-class girl who breathes ideas of empowerment into the ebullient Jade, herself not afraid to take a stand and defend herself from sexual predators.
Will the girls break free from what is expected of them? Nadine and her dance contest, Jade’s resigned life as betting-shop employee: ‘I am not special, I am not remarkable, but my life is more than just a booking,’ she says in a final speech.
The production marks the directorial debut of actor Rebekah Murrell (Nine Night). J’Ouvert is the second of three plays to show at the Harold Pinter Theatre as part of its reopening season, Reemerge.The production is sandwiched between Walden, a new climate-focused play by Amy Berryman starring Gemma Arterton (Tamara Drewe, Quantum of Solace), and Anna X, Joseph Charlton’s new play about New York’s fashion elite, starring The Crown's Emma Corrin.
|What||J’Ouvert, Harold Pinter Theatre|
|Where||Harold Pinter Theatre, Panton Street, London, SW1Y 4DN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Piccadilly Circus (underground)|
16 Jun 21 – 03 Jul 21, Performances at 7:30pm with additional 3pm matinees
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|