Lynette Linton’s most recent conception #Hashtag Lightie, returning to the Arcola Theatre after a sell-out run earlier this year is a simultaneously far-reaching and concentrated delight, that excels on all fronts. It chronicles the journey of a young mixed race girl, Ella, and her Social Media affection/affliction, as she confusedly attempts to forge her identity online, in the form of her beauty focussed Youtube channel, unaware of the divisions she is causing.
It brings to light the issue of mixed race identity and shadism, and leaves an indelible mark on the viewer. The use of Social Media to channel the argument is especially relevant, considering the lack of reserve that it elicits, and perfectly illustrates the ignorance and ease with which such comments are thrown around.
It is a production that makes you rejoice, not only at the prospect of the future of theatre when placed in the hands of such a clearly capable (and largely unexplored) new generation but at the sheer utilisation of the medium in such modernity, in spite of its relatively small scale. It is a witty, thoughtful, awakening, intelligent, necessary and deeply personal story that is eloquently written by Linton, and ingeniously brought to life by Director Rikki Beadle-Blair.
All Ella’s videos are conducted live in front of you on her phone, then projected behind her on a large screen. In a nice touch, the screen is also used to showcase the protagonists beforehand, through their fictitious social media accounts, as well as providing added context when necessary and depicting the growth of Ella’s presence online. Ella’s channel, with the inadvertently antagonising title #Hashtag Lightie, depicts the triumphs and tribulations that come with being a so-called “caramel queen” or “lightie”. As she rises up the viral ladder, she discovers the darker side of the internet, especially in relation to her own family. The very deliberate dynamics of Ella’s family are expertly laid out, and accordingly display all sides of the shadism debate that the play
Her elder (twin) brother and sister, despite their similarities, have a completely different notion of how they identify themselves as mixed race people; her older sister is less versed in the modern complications, instead examining her existence through literature. As all aspects of the premise are unfurled, the argument is encapsulated by the fact that both the white and black boyfriends of the sisters are caught similarly floundering when trying to understand what it means to be mixed race.
The play’s freshness is enhanced by its relationship with the audience, and it’s heartening to see such a young, diverse crowd enjoying theatre, admittedly aided by the novel fact that it is a story predominantly tailored for them. This connection is latched on to by the performers, and they play off the audience’s reactions sharply, almost considering them as another participant. It is showered with excellent performances, as each actor explores their deeply rewarding character arcs with verve and skill. Devon Anderson is especially impressive as ‘Aaron’, showing a remarkable versatility, as he hits all the right notes in a captivating performance filled with humour and emotion.
Everything comes together wonderfully, and I can’t think of a better way to spend an hour and a half, indeed you wish you could spend more time with the characters in this constructed world. If handled correctly, a TV adaptation would surely be in the realms of possibility, tracing the footsteps of ‘Atlanta’ and ‘Insecure’ before it in confronting issues of race with a balance of comedy and sincerity. For now, Linton will have to settle for being the new Resident Assistant Director at the Donmar Warehouse, an incredible achievement for someone so young. The only way is up, and we will be privileged to watch her rise.
Review by Wilfred Laurence
Ella is popular, addicted to social media, Queen of the Selfie, and mixed race. Her thriving YouTube channel has make up tips, opinions, and videos of her boisterous family. But after one of her videos goes viral, Ella finds herself in the centre of a social media storm that leads to a family meltdown. With her identity and perception of beauty challenged, can Ella promote self-love without fueling hate?
Following a sell-out weeks run #Hashtag Lightie returns to the Arcola for a full run with original cast members including Devon Anderson (Sonny Valentine in Hollyoaks and Billie Jackson in EastEnders). Written by Lynette Linton (resident assistant director at Donmar Warehouse) and director Rikki Beadle-Blair MBE (Team Angelica, Theatre Royal Stratford East) the show is a heart-warming and hilarious exploration of the conflicting ideas of what it means to be mixed race in Britain today. #Hashtag Lightie is nominated for the Alfred Fagon audience award.
The full cast is: Devon Anderson, Grace Cookey-Gam, Adele James, Sophia Leonie, John Omole and Jamie Richards.
Black Apron Entertainment presents:
Exploring what it means to be mixed race in Britain today
Written by Lynette Linton and directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair
24 Ashwin St, Dalston, London E8 3DL
14 November to 2 December 2017, 8pm