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My Brother’s Keeper at Theatre503 | Review

Rome wasn’t built in a day. But Margate was.

Mahad Ali’s script gives us a powerful, intelligent, sensitive window on today’s Britain – in general – and Margate in particular. We have white English residents pitted against black African insurgents (refugees) who are basically wannabe English residents to the chagrin of the incumbents and the discomfiture of… er… well… the racists. At heart, though, it’s not a play about racism: rather it’s a play about identity. And it’s brilliant.

My Brother's Keeper - photo by Ali Wright.
My Brother’s Keeper – photo by Ali Wright.

The brothers in question are aspiring athlete Hassan (Tito Williams) and his younger sibling, good-time seeker Aman (Tapiwa Mugweni). They hail from Niger and, it has to be said, speak remarkably good English. Whilst the older and more worldly-wise Hassan wants to keep younger bro out of trouble in this new, unusual place Aman is intent on desperately seeking hassle which inevitably constantly riles his ‘keeper’ which is probably part of his intention. They argue and bitch and behave exactly like… well… brothers…

Mugweni is a delight as the younger rebel without a pause in his quest for fun, laughter and some serious dancing. He’s funny and glib and (newly) street-wise and gleefully annoying – just like a younger brother should be but with the added inner intensity of an adolescent who wants to get on and better himself and his situation.

He has a great foil in Williams who is staid and self-effacing but who has the undercover quality of determination that is the core of the budding long-distance runner. It’s a great double act as these brothers take us on their separate but interwoven journeys, giving us perceptive insights into the lot of the refugees in a fading English seaside community.

That community is represented by Bill Bradley (Phillip Wright), the fading proprietor of a small, fading seaside-town hotel. Bill, and his son Aidan (Oscar Adams), are trying, desperately, to keep their heads above water. But whilst Aidan wants, change, investment, and expansion his Dad rather likes the idea of continuity and its promise of a quiet life. Enter the refugee brothers, subsidised by benefits, invited by Aidan and resented – at first – by his Dad. It’s fair to say that son and Dad don’t get on too well and this new arrangement is clearly not going to help. That is until Bill, a former runner, finds out that Hassan is also a runner and they gel. Meanwhile, Aidan (who has suffered from depression) and Aman are in the foothills of burgeoning soul-mateship. Put like that it might sound trite – but it’s not: the writing is so dynamic and clever that we are deeply invested in these sympathetically drawn characters.

Wright exudes a cuddly-style belligerence that allows him to ride smooth-shod over his quirks and his clearly dinosaur ideas about business and – more importantly – fatherhood – though a deceased wife/mother is clearly the elephant in the hotel lounge for the pair. Adams is thoughtful, sensitive and scared and is adept at getting across the wide-eyed rabbit-in-the-headlights vibe in his relationship with Aman.

And then we have the spark, the naked flame that ignites the short fuse of the community’s phobia about immigration. Enter Linton Hughes, the agent provocateur, the unashamed Faragista, the racist in political clothing. Peter Eastland is excellent in this role giving us the perfect “I’m not a racist but…” patter whilst uncovering the hard-right underbelly of so-called ‘soft racism’ that besmirches small seaside-towns – and increasingly – local inland 2-star hotels throughout the country. Eastland shrewdly epitomises the dial-a-mob firebrand carrying the torch of Enoch Powell. He’s a pound-shop Farage dining out on division, stoking resentment, getting high on parochial power: a vibrant tour de force is Eastland.

Rob Awosusi directs the show with a knowing panache, illuminating the script and keeping us gripped throughout. My one gripe, though, is the collection of four fluorescent tube lights group-suspended over the stage which flash, dim, strobe and change colour throughout the show. I could not fathom their relevance or purpose – there is one club sequence where they were more relevant but the colour-changing LEDs could handle that just as effectively – and they became a too-bright and unwelcome distraction. Something for Awosusi and Lighting Designer Kieron Johnson to have a look at perhaps: let the words speak, let the performers grab us, let the action evolve and flow of its own accord. A small but important point, I feel, in a superbly enriching evening’s entertainment.

Another great show then at the wonderful Theatre 503, home of New Voices. It’s well worth a watch – you will not be disappointed. And get there early to sample the delights of that great old London Pub – the Latchmere!

5 Star Rating

Review by Peter Yates

When the lives of refugee brothers Aman, played by Tapiwa Mugweni (Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Young Vic; A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Virginia Tech University; Chewing Gum, Channel 4) and Hassan, played by St Mary’s graduate Tito Williams (Zen School of Motoring; BBC) collides with father-son business owners Bill and Aidan, portrayed by Philip Wright (Hot Lane, Claybody Theatre; Macbeth, New Vic Theatre; Eastenders, BBC) and, making his professional London stage debut, Oscar Adams, a fragile utopia is found in each other’s company. Joined by Peter Eastland (Othello, Royal National Theatre; Only the Lonely, Birmingham Rep; The Wedding, Young Vic), My Brother’s Keeper investigates the complex resistance a community faces to change, and the hostility that threatens to fracture the developing relationships that form between the parallel pairs.

Aman Tapiwa Mugweni
Hassan Tito Williams
Aidan Oscar Adams
Bill Philip Wright
Linton Peter Eastland

Production Team
Director Robert Awosusi
Writer and Co-producer Mahad Ali for Relentless Productions
Co-producer Layla Madanat for Relentless Productions
Designer Amanda Ramasawmy
Lighting Designer Kieron Johnson
Sound Designer Esther Kehinde Ajayi
Stage Manager on Book Aiman Bandali
Assistant Stage Manager Emily Compton
Production Manager Emily Dickson
Poster Design Martha Hegarty

Relentless Productions’ My Brother’s Keeper
Tuesday 14th February – Saturday 4th March 2023
Theatre503, 503 Battersea Park Road, London, SW11 3BW

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  • Peter Yates

    Peter has a long involvement in the theatrical world as playwright, producer, director and designer. His theatre company Random Cactus has taken many shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, the London Fringe and elsewhere and he has been associated with the Wireless Theatre Company since its inception where his short play Lie Detector can be heard: Wireless Theatre Company.

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