I confess it was the intriguing seating arrangement that drew me to seeing The Westbridge last week (thanks to the Royal Court building tour).
The stage is a catwalk around three sides of the Jerwood Upstair's rectangular space. There is one long bench against the spare wall and the remaining seats are in the middle, fixed to the floor and facing difference directions at right angles.
My intrigued centred on the purpose of having the audience thus positioned, what it would add to the play, the story being told and the overall experience. The conclusion I've drawn is that I'm still not entirely sure it added anything other than getting annoying and quite uncomfortable squirming around in your seat as the focus of the play changed from one part of the stage to another.
There is one particularly irritating scene about a family dinner where two of the diners sit at one end of the catwalk and the remaining two at the other. When you've got your back to one set of actors and the dialogue is a fairly rapid exchange between the two you have to make decisions as to which set you are going to look at and therefore lose half the performance.
The play itself, no doubt inspired but the summer riots, is set on a council estate in Battersea or South Chelsea as estate agents call it. An attack on a young woman on the estate sparks reprisals and racial tension among the mixed-race community. The growing tension is mirrored on micro level in the relationship between Soriya (Chetna Pandya) who is white-Pakistani and Marcus (Fraser Ayers) who is white-Afro Caribbean.
The play works on two levels exposing prejudices and stereotypes through the trouble on the estate and through Soriya's and Marcus' relationship. It's an accomplished and refreshingly contemporary piece, thought-provoking and insightful but I'm still not sure what that seating was all about.
I'm going to give it four stars.
The Westbridge runs at the Royal Court's Jerwood Upstairs until Dec 23. It's sold out but if you want to see it then tomorrow morning at 9am a load of £10 day tickets go on sale for that evening's performance.
A couple of second degree connections, firstly Fraser Ayers was in the Philip Ridley written and directed film Heartless and of course Mr W has performed in a couple of Ridley plays, Mercury Fur and Leaves of Glass.
And then Paul Bhattacharjee who plays Saghir was in Casino Royal which of course stars Daniel Craig as Bond. Mr W and Craig have worked together on The Trench, Enduring Love and Layer Cake and, if they've already shot the scenes with Q, then again recently on the new Bond film which is out next year.
I think Craig must be the actor Mr W has worked with in the most number of different projects over the years, probably followed by Rory Kinnear, unless somebody knows different.