Harold Pinter Theatre, London – until 3 July 2021
This vibrant and thoughtful play is both a celebration of the carnival experience as well highlighting sexual politics and inclusivity versus cultural appropriation that can emerge in these settings.
This year’s Notting Hill Carnival may have been cancelled once again this year, but there is still a way to get into the carnival experience courtesy of this warm, funny and thoughtful play by Yasmin Joseph.
Originally seen at Theatre503, J’Ouvert follows the experiences of two friends taking part and celebrating the carnival experience but along the way going through a number of situations that showcase the Black British experience and the struggle to preserve tradition with the sexual politics that comes with the carnival experience.
Filled with vibrant personalities and a script that is delightfully witty throughout, Joseph’s play really gets to the heart of some of the struggles that Black British women face in a powerful way, highlighted particularly in the confrontational scenes in which Nadine confronts Nisha that concentrate on inclusivity versus cultural appropriation. In moments such as this nothing is held back and it is an emotionally strong and insightful experience. However, on the other side of this it does take some time to get going and to really set the scene with the first ten minutes in need of a little tightening up.
Directed by Rebekah Murrell it is a really lively experience that is vividly brought to life with the help of the pulsating music that brings the carnival to life and Shelley Maxwell’s fluid movement that keeps the audience thoroughly engaged with the story emerging and the characters involved. The whole tone of the production gets the balance of being a celebration of the carnival and making a point about how it has certainly lost a sense of direction over the years with references to overpriced food and drink for example just right.
But on a deeper level, this is a play that shows just how powerful the bond between friends can be – captured beautifully in the contrasting nature of the personalities brought so boldly to life by the cast. Annice Boparai as Nisha is charmingly passionate with great comedy timing, Gabrielle Brooks as Nadine is compelling to watch as she moves between being strong to being vulnerable in a matter of minutes, while Sapphire Joy as Jade is a nice contrast and balance between the others. Together all of the performances ensures that the story at the centre of the play is nicely grounded and engaging to watch unfold.
While in places it feels a little more work could be done into giving more depth and focus to the story, there is no denying that this is an enjoyable and thought-provoking play that has arrived at just the right time.
By Emma Clarendon
J’Ouvert continues to play at the Harold Pinter Theatre until the 3rd July. You can book tickets here.