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The Fellowship by Roy Williams at Hampstead Theatre

Children of the Windrush generation, sisters Dawn and Marcia, grew up in the 1980s. In Roy Williams’ new play Dawn is shown struggling to care for their dying mother as her son drifts away from her and high-flying barrister Marcia finds that her affair with a married politician might destroy her career. The blurb on the script cover describes the play as “electrifying, hilarious… gripping”.

The Fellowship Production L-R ETHAN HAZZARD, ROSIE DAY © Robert Day.
The Fellowship Production L-R ETHAN HAZZARD, ROSIE DAY © Robert Day.

Williams has structured his play in two acts, each of six scenes, most of which are short. Nearly every scene is a duologue, and almost each one is an argument, sometimes several arguments, which does mean that there is a lot of shouting, which quickly becomes wearying! The climax of the play is Act Two Scene Three, which seems as if it could be the end of the play and, judging by the applause, many members of the audience thought that it was, the following scenes almost being superfluous – audiences no longer need everything ‘tied up’ as in the ‘well-made play’ of one hundred years ago: we would rather let our imaginations do the work after we have left the theatre.

Dawn was believably played by Cherrelle Skeete, having been given the role only eight days ago owing to the illness of another cast member. The fact that she sometimes used a script did not detract from her portrayal which had as much light, shade and depth as the script would allow.

Son Jermaine was sensitively handled by Ethan Hazzard, especially in his scenes with his girlfriend Simone (Rosie Day). She coped well with the sometimes pedestrian dialogue she was given: “Cos if you mention your mum one more time in a sentence, I’m going to beat you around the head with summink.”, but found it difficult to build a role which had motivation.

Tony, Dawn’s husband, we assume, was also given little backstory but lifted the play whenever he was on stage by his physical presence. His most effective scene was with Jermaine in Act Two, but, like others in the cast, he seemingly had difficulties negotiating the long semi-circular stairs to the first floor (offstage) which curled around the rear of the stage in Libby Watson’s set; each tread seemed slightly too wide to be negotiated without thought.

Yasmin Mwanza was given the rather stereotypical role of PC Spencer, but was much more successful with Sylvia, Dawn and Marcia’s mother: this was perhaps the best performance of the night.

Marcia was clearly a difficult role for Suzette Llewellyn to succeed in, as it was difficult to believe, from the writing, that she was a QC. The role was too short-tempered and never had enough gravitas, which surely you would quickly acquire in such a post.

Although the play is set in two spaces – ‘the living room’ and ‘a park’- Libby Watson provided one composite set, the park being indicated as a space downstage just by lighting (Mark Jonathan), and items called for in the script, such as a tumble dryer, being omitted completely. This kept everything ‘clean’ and ‘minimalist’ but did not give the feeling of claustrophobia, of people being unable to escape their everyday lives, which the play seemed to call for.

An interesting evening, one I am glad I did not miss – food for thought even if not “electrifying, hilarious… gripping…

3 Star Review

Review by John Groves

Children of the Windrush generation, sisters Dawn and Marcia Adams grew up in 1980s London and were activists on the front line against the multiple injustices of that time. Decades on, they find they have little in common beyond family… Dawn struggles to care for their dying mother, whilst her one surviving son is drifting away from her. Meanwhile, high-flying lawyer Marcia’s affair with a married politician might be about to explode and destroy her career. Can the Adams sisters navigate the turmoil that lies ahead, leave the past behind, and seize the future with the bond between them still intact?

The world premiere of Roy Williams’ The Fellowship, directed by Paulette Randall, is, by turns, an electrifying, hilarious, gripping tale set in modern Britain.

The cast includes Rosie Day (Instructions for a Teenage Armageddon, Southwark Playhouse; Microwave, National Theatre), Ethan Hazzard (Raised by Wolves, HBO; The Long Song, BBC One), Trevor Laird (Small Island and One Man, Two Guvnors, National Theatre), Suzette Llewellyn (Running with Lions, Lyric Hammersmith; EastEnders, BBC One), Yasmin Mwanza (Spider-Man: Far from Home, Marvel Studios, Sony and Columbia Pictures; Girls, Talawa Theatre Company) and Cherrelle Skeete (Fun Home, Young Vic; The Phlebotomist, Hampstead Theatre).

The Fellowship is a T.S. Eliot Foundation commission.

A HAMPSTEAD THEATRE WORLD PREMIERE
THE FELLOWSHIP
BY ROY WILLIAMS
DIRECTED BY PAULETTE RANDALL
21 JUN – 23 JUL 2022
https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/

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  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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