Royal Court Theatre, London – until 18 January 2019
Opening with the kind of house party you’d be quite happy to end up at after a few drinks down the pub, you can kinda see where the Royal Court is coming from in programming Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s A Kind of People over Christmas. But as in the tradition of all good parties – and most good plays – something goes wrong, conflict must arise, and any sense of festive cheer is soon Scrooged away.
Bhatti’s play is set in the bosom of a tight-knit multicultural, working class community, with mixed-race couple Gary and Nicky at its heart. With friends and family forever knocking on their door, their home doesn’t lack for conviviality but it is lacking space – they’re bursting out of the seams of their council flat. But Gary’s up for a promotion at work, with a serious pay rise, so things could be looking up.
Except of course, they don’t. Gary’s boss Victoria rocks up at one of their parties and makes a tit of herself, the ramifications of which threaten the very consensus on which their lives are built, exposing the frailties of daring to be aspirational in Brexit Britain. It’s a searing look at the precariousness of so much of our lives, and particularly how helpless we can feel in the face of external pressures.
Bhatti picks apart social cohesion with an almost distressing sense of purpose, tackling issues of race from all kinds of angles, raising questions about integration and insularity without ever providing any pat answers. There’s a strong theme too about the importance of education, how the choice of school can stack children’s chances and the lengths parents will go in order to game the system.
It all adds up to a rather bleak experience but in Michael Buffong’s production, it never feels exploitative. Rather, there’s a clear-eyed sense of the iniquities of contemporary society (rarely have you seen white women’s tears weaponised as effectively as this) and its ultimately tribal nature. Claire-Lousie Cordwell and Richie Campbell excel as the central couple, capturing the soul-destroying despair behind finding class mobility forever just out of their reach, and there’s powerful work from Manjinder Virk and Petra Letang, each spillers of unpalatable truths.