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Sunday

Joy Gharoro-Adebayo
Theatre Royal Stratford East with Team Angelica
Theatre Royal Stratford East

Sunday

Sunday puts five black actresses on the stage of the Theatre Royal, no men and no white faces, one answer to the absence of black characters and roles for women, and that’s good to see, but it offers much more than its casting opportunities.

Joy Gharoro-Adebayo, a 29-year-old Nigerian-born writer and producer, has drawn on her family roots for this play about three generations of women of a Nigerian family, possibly now resident in Britain, though the script leaves the setting ambiguous and it could be anywhere. The details here may draw on a particular culture, but the situation the play explores could apply anywhere that sectarian thinking exists within a more liberal society.

Abi is very religious. She’s down on her knees talking to her Christian God, but her churchgoing and praying, which at first seems on account of her mother and her daughter, turn out to be more expiatory. Mother Doris, being told that she should give herself to God, retorts that she’ll give herself to God when she’s dead and warns Abi to beware of false prophets in sheep’s clothing.

Doris shares her thoughts with a friend, plain-speaking Faye. It is only after you have begun to realise it yourself that the script reveals that Faye is there only in Doris’s head; she’s long dead, a 27-year old memory, but that doesn’t alter their closeness.

Maybe that already gives you some idea of this writer’s way with words and her careful construction of her multi-layered play which sets rigid sectarian attitudes against human feeling.

Abi has a daughter called Mary, her dad a no-good Ye-Ye man (according to Doris) who left them. She has her own assignations on Sundays when mother is at Church with accountant Sara. These women have an intimate relationship. Sarah is “out” to her family, Mary finds that impossible with hers; she hasn’t even told Sarah where she lives, let along taking her home to meet them.

Mary and grandmother Doris both have (or had) lesbian lovers. Will Abi interfere with her daughter’s happiness as she interfered with her mother’s? That tragic event from the past that still hangs over Abi will, of course, be revealed.

Can Abi exorcise the taint of lesbianism and her own guilt? Can Doris friend some kind of resolution? Can Mary find happiness? It is a play that tackles contentious issues with frankness but it also digs deep into these women’s feelings and relationships.

Sunday here got its first airing in a script-held performance under the sensitive direction of Dawn Reid and is ripe for further development. It is one play of the five being presented in this year’s Angelic Tales season (and sadly the only one this critic can get to).

Every year Theatre Royal Stratford Easts hosts Rikki Beadle-Blair’s Team Angel in developing the work of budding playwrights and staging rehearsed readings that showcase their work and give writers an opportunity to see how they play.

This year Beadle-Blair and colleague John R Gordon received scripts from 70 unperformed writers, all of whom received critical feedback and some of which went on to help with further development, table readings and eventually five performed publicly—one more way in which the Theatre Royal serves emerging writers and the community.

There are still two performances left. On Friday, Aaron Gordon’s Sweating it Out is about Gym-fiend Jamz, bestie Charlotte and Andy to whom he becomes personal trainer. On Saturday there’s 1960s Kingston-set Jamaica Boy about handsome Chinese-Jamaican Chong and his beautiful, dark-skinned Ophelia by Stephen Hoo. Both are at 8PM.

If they are as good as Sunday they are worth catching.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton