The Community Centre
The Continental, Preston
There's a lot going on down at The Community Centre, as you might expect in a play that's set in one of Manchester's Afro Caribbean social clubs.
Four senior citizens meet up for a card game, there's two skiving shop assistants from the Community Farm next door, and around and about them a 'White Rasta' janitor sweeps the floor and pays homage to Bob Marley. There's also an occasionally intrusive club receptionist, which allows playwright and performer Nicola Gardner to double up in two of the roles she has created.
If anything unites the main characters, it's maybe their sex lives—faintly remembered or, as yet, frustratingly unfulfilled. All of which lends Gardner's play some very broad humour and rewards its capacity audience here (for the first of two nights of performance) with a lot of laughs. Unsurprising, since Gardner is also a stand-up comedienne.
So what she's created is really a series of comedy sketches around a series of easily enjoyable characters, with—you strongly suspect—an eye on developing it all as a TV series. There's certainly a group of people here whose company you might enjoy on a weekly basis. Victoria Wood's sitcom Dinner Ladies springs easily to mind.
At the moment, The Community Centre doesn't quite hold together as a drama and only manages a cursory attempt at giving the characters their deserved opinions on the Windrush scandal and its effect on a West Indian community being compelled to prove its Britishness. If it could up its production values just a little, it would also benefit from some music. Brother Myers's heartfelt poem would be even more ironic were it set to a calypso rhythm.
But you can't otherwise fault a big-hearted entertainment that gets its audience to join in an a capella community singalong—"Let's Get Together And Feel All Right" never sounded quite so pertinent.
After appearances here and earlier at the Kings Arms, Salford, it's headed to Edinburgh.
Reviewer: David Upton