Theatre Royal Stratford East
Theatre Royal and E15
Ever since it became Theatre Workshop’s base in 1953, the Theatre Royal has sought, with increasing success, to be a resource for the local community with many activities to involve and serve it.
Some of that work is represented in this promenade production which brings together members of the Theatre Royal’s own Youth Theatre, its Poets’ Platform, the Stratford East Singers, Barking’s Young and Talented and youngsters training with hip-hop dance group Boy Blue.
Directed by Karen Tomlin, it starts off outside Stratford East station where, almost immediately, progress is halted by a youth with a poetic turn of phrase who directs attention to a young man sitting on the steps leading up to the huge local shopping mall who is reading a newspaper.
They see him pick up a notebook and rush past them looking for the girl who has left it. They then follow him on his journey to find and encounter her.
It is a kind of love story about these two young people but it isn’t the story that is important so much as the journey and what they encounter on the way, not just performance but written messages, signs and installations (one a discrete reminder that you can fund a named seat in the theatre’s refurbishment). It is about dreams and identity and the idea of happiness. The first part is built around the idea of your name: the name you fill in on forms, on an exam paper.
As they meet up with a poet on a bicycle, a homeless man dreaming of a dance with his ideal Bo-Peep, a white horse on a pavement, find a pebble beach where the waves crash, there are constant written reminders of naming until, with a string band performing in Theatre Square, a message on the theatre’s wall tells you that your name is all you really own.
A gaggle of girls now lead you through the dock doors and into the theatre. On stage, with the iron down, there is a rehearsal in progress. It doesn’t take long to recognize the play—one where name is important. These Youth Theatre performers seem to have more sense of verse and meaning than a professional version that started my week, though since the long speeches are divided between them they only have to deal with a line or two at a time.
Rehearsal over, we charge out again into the 1960s shopping arcade where there’s a girl singer in the central atrium, soon joined by a bloke who gets people dancing with members of the wider public caught up in things; they are even taking selfies of themselves dancing.
Most of what follows is music and dancing, up on the roof of the shopping centre with views all around where the young man catches up with the girl and they talk about beauty, where a white rabbit leads to a new location, for spirited street dance. This becomes a real party.
I don’t know how things ended. Did the young couple get a happy ending going off into a golden sunset? Already running later than had been expected and with a tube strike making transport difficult, I had to leave to get to another show.
The Streets had already proved itself as a bringing together of different aspects of the theatre’s work, a celebration of them. Everyone was having such a good time.
The Streets (which is free though you have to book) isn’t really about its audience—they were an excuse for doing something that brings so much pleasure and satisfaction to the participants—but the audience has a good time too.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton