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All Roads – Studio at New Wimbledon Theatre

Matthew (Tristan Waterson) may well be “no gang member”, and there’s no evidence of him carrying a knife when out and about, let alone a gun, though there are still other stereotypical traits of a young Londoner – his favourite restaurant is a local “chicken shop”, and he doesn’t so much walk as strut and swagger. At least he wears his trousers properly, without his underwear showing. When Chantel (Kudzai Mangombe) recalls what they got up to in the privacy of her bedroom whilst her parents were out for the evening, it is sufficient in this production to say it, without the rigmarole of a pants-down demonstration.

All RoadsIf anything, however, perhaps a little too much is described rather than dramatized: names are introduced, like Jordan and Darren, but their stories aren’t followed up on. Whatever else is revealed about Matthew’s former partner, Yasmin, and his sister, Tash, is overshadowed by the show’s critical incident, which the local press rather tersely headlined: “Black Girls Drowned: Shock Suicide Pact”, but as the narrative unfolds, it becomes clear the media have, once again, not let the truth get in the way of a ‘good’ story.

The background soundscape is almost relentless, save for a few moments of relative quiet when the dialogue is allowed to shine unaccompanied, such that whatever dramatic effect the music initially had gradually dissipated until it became more of a hindrance than a help. There are some difficult family relations for Matthew to navigate, particularly with his estranged father Andy, who has converted to evangelical Christianity. But arguably typically, some of the older man’s actions and behaviours aren’t exactly in line with religious themes of love, tolerance and forgiveness.

Still, there is some support for these young characters, in a storyline that isn’t filled with unceasing adversity. I was tempted to think that Chantel’s ambition to open a hair salon could be realised, as well as that of Matthew’s desire to become an architect, however much the latter feels the pursuit of his dream is being frustrated by societal barriers of various kinds. That said, this play was going down some well-trodden paths – the narrative goes back as far as the characters’ school days, when certain teachers would (apparently) inconsistently apply sanctions for misbehaviour. This translates into adulthood and interactions with “the feds” (that is, the police) – that they bother turning up at all at Matthew’s family home when so many other calls go unattended says something, Matthew believes, within reason, about the contempt with which people of colour are held by them.

Perhaps familiarity with the narrative themes leads to relatability, and it is interesting that the response when it comes to dealing with mental and psychological trauma is to approach friends and family, however dysfunctional those relationships may be. Nobody here goes to a counsellor or a therapist, and Matthew attends church one Sunday not to meet with the vicar, but his (Matthew’s) father. It may be a subliminal commentary on the distrust within contemporary society of institutional help – I know I wouldn’t necessarily go running to the professionals at the first sign of trouble at the mill. There’s lots to think about in this short but incisive play that shines a light on urban working class people. Oh, and various accents are performed very convincingly.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

World premiere from acclaimed writer Roy Williams.

A tragic suicide. Two young Black lives are blown apart.

In the madness of grief, Matthew and Chantel find each other again.

As the clouds begin to clear they wonder what their shared future might hold.

I need to like myself; I need to have a proper life.

All Roads is the world premiere of a new play by Roy Williams (Death of England, Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads) which explores what it means to love, grieve and build your own future, being young Black British today.

All Roads is at Studio at New Wimbledon Theatre from Tuesday 14th March, 2023 to Saturday 18th March, 2023.

View all shows booking now at Studio at New Wimbledon Theatre.

Theatre Peckham 22nd – 26th March 2023
Bernie Grant Arts Centre 29th March – 1st April 2023

Attic will host post-show talks on the 10th, 16th and 24th March 2023 with the playwright, Roy Williams.

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