Tonight Is Your Answer
Theatre Royal Stratford East
This is the opener for Stratford East’s Angelic Tales, its annual week-long festival of new writing.
Given a staged reading, directed by Dawn Reid, it is an all-women play that explores attitudes to colour, mixed-race parenting, sexual attraction and self-esteem when middle-class Natasha (Tara Fitzgerald) has invited some girlfriends round to watch the US presidential election results come in. Only three of them have accepted. First to arrive is Izzy (Katie Hayes), who turns up dressed for a pyjama party, then Mo (Charlotte Randle) and finally Angela (Rakie Ayola) the only black woman among them.
Angela has planned a celebratory but fairly serious night when they will mark off each result as it is declared. They follow the man whom one of them calls “Obama, the Black Jesus” on what they hope will be his way to victory, but Izzy has come for fun, even equipped with cardboard Obama masks, and soon gets into the bevvy. A drink or two and one of her secrets is revealed: a very significant tattoo, to which highly-politicised Mo takes exception.
This is not really about Obama and the presidential election; it is about the women and their lives, but Rutherford does not tell us enough about them in the first half of the play to make us care much about them. It is really not until just before the interval that it really begins to take off and sparks fly, the claws dig in and rivalries, jealousies and revelations are uncovered and accusations aimed. There is spirited playing from the cast, even with scripts in hand. You know that Barak Obama got into the White House but it would be a spoiler to give away the convolutions of this plot.
This is the third Angelic Tales Festival and the rest of the week will see 11 more new plays presented that will range from “laugh-out loud comedies to city romances” according to the company.
Still to come are Stitched Up by Sarah Cook, set in a black-run bridal boutique, Chosen by Simon Platman, which has the disowned son of a traditional Jewish couple turning their lives upside down, Three by Richard Crowest about the roller coaster results when a cosily-married gay couple take in a hot young lodger, Daytrippers by Daniel Brierly about a Cockney con man whose life gets put in turmoil by what started as his target and Demolition by Lucy Beacon, another comedy that looks at a mix of committed radical revolutionaries and trust-fund beneficiaries playing at politics. On Saturday, 15-minute extracts from four more plays make up the programme.
This year there were submissions from 70 East London writers, all of which were read and given feedback with 50 being taken further. Some will go on to yet further development and some showcased this year along with a couple of last year’s submissions which have now matured.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton