Ann Ahmed, dramaturgy by Mina Anwar with additional text by Mina Anwar and Natasha Haws
The Customs House
The Customs House, South Shields
Laygate, South Shields, in the 1960s. A poor area, an area of outside toilets where you wiped your bottom on cut-up squares of newspaper hanging from a nail in the wall; an area where you shopped where ‘provi cheques’ were accepted, where Clarks shoes were an aspiration and a luxury; a multicultural area where white, black, Arab and mixed-race families lived together (usually) in harmony, where racism and prejudice went together with being a bit better off than the rest; a slum area just about to be cleared and the people moved to new council estates like Biddick Hall and Whiteleas.
This is the home of the Ibrahim, Warsama and Elliot families along with the Collins family ruled over by mother Moira, (slightly) upwardly mobile and somewhat racist.
The Ibrahims, mother Maggie (Natasha Atkinson) and children Alana (Mahsa Hammat Bahary), Zara (Melissa Sert) and Daniel (Soroosh Lavasani), are about to move to their new three-bedroomed semi in Brockely Whins but are waiting to her from dad David Ali Ibrahim who has been away for two years working as a ship’s cook.
Maggie’s best friend Mo Elliott (Sarah Boulter) lives next door and the two women really do support each other.
Their other neighbour and friend, the enthusiastic Abdoul Warsama (Jerome Ngonadi) and his daughter Yusra (Akeesha Adamus), has plans for setting up a boarding house for seaman, but the fly in the Laygate ointment is Moira Collins (Christina Berriman Dawson), one of whose kids had taunted the youngest Ibrahim, Zara, so she gave him a bloody nose.
I’m tempted to call it an “everyday story of Laygate folk” but frankly it has more depth than The Archers ever had!
It’s a slice of the lives of these four Laygate families, told with love, tenderness and not a little gentle humour—but of course there’s sadness too, for that’s life. The characters are well drawn and, under the sensitive direction of Mina Anwar and through the skill of the actors, they and the community in which they live really come alive, as indeed does that other character, Laygate itself.
Although Laygate as a part of Shields still exists, it is very different to what it was then, so Our Laygate is really an elegy for a place, a way of life and a sense of community, all of which have gone.
Another success in a long line of Customs House dramatisations of the history of South Shields and its people.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan