Harold Pinter Theatre, London – until 3 July 2021
There has been controversy in the US about a brand of rum called ‘J’Ouvert’. It is a term that is both celebratory and has links with the slave trade and Yasmin Jay’s play beautifully captures the contradictions it represents.
Set at the Notting Hill carnival Nadine (Gabrielle Brooks), Jade (Sapphire Joy) and Nisha (Annice Boparai) want to enjoy the day, but they also have an agenda.
Nadine has been rehearsing her dance moves and wants to shake off her church upbringing and be the face of the carnival. She is driven by the spirit of Claudia Jones, who founded the carnival and serves as a reminder of the event’s origins.
Jade is there to support (and protect) Nadine. She is also being drawn into the world of activism and has a speech to make. Nisha is a middle-class activist who sees carnival as an opportunity to rally more of the community to her anti-gentrification cause.
Before the play starts, the theatre has a party atmosphere, with music playing so that when the curtain rises on carnival day, complete with a DJ at the back of the stage, the scene is set. We follow the three through the day that proves to be a powerful reflection of both the joys, struggles and spirit of the time.
An encounter with two men (brilliantly played by Brooks and Joy in tandem with ‘Nadine’ and ‘Jade’) highlights casual misogyny and sexism, reflecting the necessity of #metoo. Jade’s reaction also got one of the biggest reactions of the night. And it was a night of audience reactions.
The treatment of black and ethnic communities; the frustrations born out of inequality, inequity and racism are reflected in the three girls’ conversations and encounters.
But the desire for a voice, for the freedom to be who they want to be, to achieve what they want to achieve, weaves powerfully throughout.
It’s in the hurt, the arguments, the yearning, the fear and worries and the joyousness of the dancing. The spirit and vibrancy of carnival are never far away.
It’s an evocative play. It will have you smiling, laughing, angry, sad and more. But through it, you will also be tapping your toe.
J’Ouvert bursts onto the stage, and it is the theatre experience I’ve been waiting to get back to. Theatre that can pack a powerful punch and do it while entertaining.
It is at the Harold Pinter Theatre until July 3.
Have you seen J’Ouvert either on stage or on screen? What did you think?
Also recently reviewed:
Under Milk Wood, National Theatre starring Michael Sheen
And here is my 60-second review of J’Ouvert recorded just after leaving the theatre when I was all of a buzz:
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