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My White Best Friend and Other Letters Left Unsaid at The Bunker

My White Best Friend - Inès de Clercq - Credit The Bunker.
My White Best Friend – Inès de Clercq – Credit The Bunker.

Straight, white, able-bodied males to the back, queer, ethnic minority females front and centre.” The first line of the show. Later on class was used to arrange the audience too and so, as a straight, white, middle-class female, I found myself on the fringes of the audience from the get-go and that is where I stayed both physically and metaphorically for the rest of the evening, and that’s exactly where I needed to be.

My White Best Friend and Other Letters Left Unsaid is a fantastic concept. Real people writing letters to other real people with all the things they could never say, all around the theme of privilege related to race and class. These letters are read out live on stage by actors who have never seen them before which makes the performance more raw and real somehow. Each night includes different letters so I can only speak for the performance I saw, but the themes throughout the run are similar.

The first letter, written by Rachel De-Lahay was read by Inès De Clercq and was by far the most powerful performance of the evening, the letter describing an argument that never happened over a lack of proactivity and support that the author experiences when it came to race issues. The letter was written in the first person so it was read in the voice of the white person even though it wasn’t her words, a fact alluded to later on – do privileged people listen more when the words are spoken by ‘one of them?’ The emotion with which Inès de Clercq delivered the letter was evident throughout. It really hit home for me, I am a ‘white best friend’ in the worst sense of the phrase and I hate to think that my friends have experienced the things described and I have not always been there for them. For me, it was a call to do better.

The second letter, written in rhyme, was a response from Jammz black person to his white friend’s letter to him, performed in an engaging and funny manner by Ben Bailey Smith. For much of this performance and some of the next one I felt excluded, I simply didn’t get the jokes and the cultural references, and I guess that that is the point. Being unable to access cultural norms is rare for me and so by putting minorities centre stage and excluding the majority, it makes perfect sense.

The third letter was untitled, written by Zia Ahmed and performed by Zainab Hasan. I found this one quite hard to follow at first as the narrative wasn’t quite so clear, perhaps because it wasn’t written to a specific person in the same way as the others. The middle part of the performance involved Hasan reading a series of well-chosen quotes about race, religion and class in a variety of accents, highlighting the way in which the media, politicians and even theatre talk about these issues in unhelpful ways. The final section of this letter was horrifying. Written to a young girl, Alice, who the writer used to nanny explaining why he felt he had to leave the job it detailed the way in which he was treated with suspicion because he was an Asian man walking with a white child. The experience he described made me feel deeply uncomfortable and highlighted the level of discrimination still present across society.

This allows us to close the loop on the show, harking back to the first letter, we are told very clearly that it’s not enough to be angry about discrimination. If there is one message from this show it is that everyone needs to act to close the gap and I’m ashamed that it has taken an evening sat on the fringe to make me realise this.

So the overall picture is a simple one – this for many people will not be a comfortable evening’s viewing but it is an important one and as such, it comes highly recommended. It’s fast-paced, funny and thought provoking which is everything you need to make great theatre.

5 Star Rating

Review by Emily Diver

Originally part of Black Lives Black Words, De-Lahay’s provocative act of letter writing engages with racial tensions, microaggressions and emotional labour. How do you start the conversation with someone you love about how their beliefs, their unthinking actions, their politics undermine, hurt, erase you? Writer Rachel De-Lahay and director Milli Bhatia have commissioned eleven writers to pen letters that say the unsaid to the people that matter most.

Twitter #MyWhiteBestFriend, @BunkerTheatreUK
Notes Ages 14+ some strong language
Writer and Curator Rachel De-Lahay
Director and Curator Milli Bhatia

Writers Zia Ahmed Jammz
Travis Alabanza Iman Qureshi
Fatimah Ashgar Anya Reiss
Nathan Bryon Nina Segal
Matilda Ibini Tolani Shoneye

Performers: Inès de Clercq, Tom Moutchi, Rosie Day, Cherelle Skeete, Phoebe Fox, Ben Bailey Smith, Zainab Hasan, Chris Sonnex, Nick Holder, Danny Lee Wynter, George MacKay, Ria Zmitrowicz, Shvorne Marks

Monday 18th – Saturday 23rd March 2019
The Bunker, 53A Southwark Street London SE1 1RU

Author

  • Emily Gami

    I am a 25 year old Geography teacher who really loves the theatre. I first fell in love with the theatre when I was 15 and since moving to London 4 years ago I have tried to see as many shows as possible. On the rare occasions I am not at work or at the theatre I can usually be found on a tennis court or curled up somewhere with a good book

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