Review: The Fellowship, at Hampstead Theatre

Much to admire in Roy Williams' timely exploration of what it means to be black in Britain today

Thursday, 7th July — By Lucy Popescu

ETHAN HAZZARD and ROSIE DAY Robert Day

Ethan Hazzard and Rosie Day in The Fellowship. Photo: Robert Day

ROY Williams is currently mentor of Hampstead Theatre’s year-long writers’ programme Inspire. His latest play, The Fellowship, is a timely exploration of what it means to be black in Britain today.

We follow the fortunes of Dawn (Cherrelle Skeete stepping into the role at short notice) and Marcia (Suzette Llewellyn). The sisters grew up in 1980s London and witnessed the New Cross fire and the Brixton and Broadwater Farm riots.

Marcia is now a barrister, but her affair with a married white politician (who wants her to take the points for his motoring offence) threatens to derail her career. Dawn is caring for their dying mother Sylvia (Yasmin Mwanza) part of the Windrush generation, who we meet as her ghostly younger self.

Dawn struggles to connect with her fickle musician partner Tony (Trevor Laird), son Jermaine (Ethan Hazzard) and his white girlfriend Simone (Rosie Day). She blames Simone for the racist murder of her firstborn son because she knew the gang who killed him.

There’s much to admire in Williams’ play and Paulette Randall’s assured production, but its two and a half hours duration feels overlong. There’s so much conflict it’s hard for us to keep up with the competing plot strands and the past sometimes dominates the present. Libby Watson’s sweeping curved staircase is impressive, but doesn’t fit the more contained, naturalistic setting of the play.

Light relief comes when the sisters let off steam by dancing to an unexpected choice of playlists. I would have preferred Williams to focus more on this relationship – their tensions and obvious love for one another.

For the most part, The Fellowship is well acted and Skeete deserves special mention for an exceptional performance after only a few days’ rehearsal.

Until July 23
hampsteadtheatre.com

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