By Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti
A Kind of People at the Royal Court is a modern day, thought provoking, vibrant piece of theatre – based in London and wrapped in everyday politics that captured my attention from beginning to end.
I found it so refreshing to go to the theatre and experience a London that I am used to; a London that I grew up in; a truly diverse London – and not just ‘diverse’ because of its inclusion of different races – but diverse because, with each socially constructed box that was ticked, it raised the multi-faceted, lateral view points, belief systems, conflicting and contradicting topics that just do not ‘fit’.
Where do I begin??
To break convention lets start at the end… that was actually the beginning. The last scene of A Kind of People, which I found the most jarring – the epilogue.
According to Wikipedia the definition of an epilogue in a play -
is a short piece that wraps up the end of a story. ... Epilogue comes from the Greek word epilogus meaning the conclusion of a speech.
Photo Credit - Manuel Harlan
So that's the meaning, but I found that the epilogue in A Kind of People - went back in time, to the beginning (like a flashback in a film), and revealed how Nicky (played by Claire-Louise Cordwell) and Gary (played by Richie Campbell) - the central characters - first met.
Unlike a flashback moment in the TV/ Film medium, this didn't work for me! And whilst I always want theatre to push its usual conventions, something about the jump from the scene before (which I thought would have been an excellent ending) to this epilogue, sat weird with me.
Claire-Louise Cordwell and Richie Campbell, however, did a fantastic job at jumping emotionally from one extreme to another. But this wasn't enough - and I felt that the inclusion of an epilogue 'explaining where it all began', was unnecessary.
We get the love and chemistry of Nicky and Gary's relationship strongly throughout the play and the epilogue, for me, was an attempt to not demonise Nicky's character - therefore shying away from/ avoiding the hard-hitting, candid reality of what potentially drives people over the edge! And whilst I found A Kind of People a humorous, relatable experience - my desired ending (Scene 10) exposes the tragic effects society has on our personal relationships and on our children.
The ‘Diverse’ political Themes
Photo Credit - Manuel Harlan
Epilogue aside, A Kind of People did a brilliant job at displaying different Kinds of People.
You should know by now how I love relevant titles!
We are taken on an emotional journey of;
- The unconscious bias that exists in corporate Britain
- The off key (frankly racist) one liners that come from the 'wanna be down' white people (or brown!)
- Good times with music and wine (or proseco) - because regardless of the politics we are all experiencing London in this time
- All the intricacies that come from being from more than one culture... more than one race
- The challenges that explode in your face when your ethics meet your childs future.
- The unity and disparity that comes, just by living in London.
It was so refreshing to watch a play whereby the Black actors express their British-ness – their Caribbean British-ness… and are not doing an African/ American accent which has irritatingly become trend and the norm for many Black British actors… whose norm is a British accent. I think what I'm trying to say is that this play reflected highly my perspective of me and the people around me!
What was also very refreshing – and something that is seldom seen on a mainstream stage, was the conversation between Gary and Karen his sister (played by Petra Letang) at the beginning of scene 7, and the specificity, hypocrisy and complexity of being Black and Jamaican and British.
Gary: Living? Us lot, we’ve hardly survived. Do you know the Caribbean population in this country is dying out? The Africans are taking over. One more generation and we’ll be gone.
These words are loaded with paradox, blame and evasion of individual responsibility – especially as Gary is a black man with a white wife and mixed-race children. But I loved the inclusion of these contradictions from many of the characters because I find that real! We constantly contradict, as we constantly evolve... and I'm coming to accept that that is just part of being human.
Another major theme, and the above example expanded, is the question of ‘the system’ and how we all fit into it; comply with it; see it; cope with it - dependent on our race, class, gender and education.
This play is ram packed with this question at every turn, and the visually, stereotypical, square characters – all challenge who you assume they are at some point during the narrative.
An example of this is Anjum (played by Manjinder Virk) and Mo (played by Asif Khan) a British Pakistani couple, neighbours to Nicky and Gary. Anjim and Mo understand and experience the oppression of race and feeling inferior. However, they are from another class, so do not fit neatly into the non-white box simultaneous with poverty. And although they have 'worked hard' for what they have - they are divided in their parenting on whether or not they want the same experience for their son. And 'by any means necessary' ensures their son qualifies to private education.
I was torn into pieces over whose politics I agreed with, because of how loaded, in-depth and thought through the characters were. I even really enjoyed Amy Morgan’s portrayal of Victoria – Gary’s ‘superior’ white, female manager - that lives in the privilege of executing unconscious bias.
If theatre is a medium to change and evolve its audience - then Gary and Nicky’s children, who are never seen, really did this for me. Their absence from the stage made them the focus, the main characters and had me seething in my seat at how society (as well as individual choices) always end up having the harshest impact on the lives of our young.
The tragedy is that we all seem to be caught up in a catch 22 system!
I want children; but refuse to raise them intentionally alone. I’m strict with this! So strict that I have come to realise, imbedded into who I am attracted to is also my unconscious bias of how brilliant a parent he will be!
In A Kind of People – the tragedy (which I will not spoil) exposes a very real issue about the decision and choice to procreate, and with whom. And I don't think the solution is to do it alone if you can financially afford to either.
Scene 10 (my preferred ending) see's both Gary and Nicky fall apart... but what about the children? It really made me realise the value of investing in yourself psychologically and emotionally (as two single individuals first). That way once you're done sorting yourself out - YOU are equipped 'by any means necessary' to put the children first!!
Gary: Living? Us lot, we’ve hardly survived. Do you know the Caribbean population in this country is dying out?
Unlike the epilogue - that too quickly tidies up the ending, taking away from the crux of the play – I thought the true ending (scene 10) attempted to expose the ugly effects of poverty and discrimination. And whilst I understand how horrific the scene is - loved it!
Check out this short video by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti on the Power structures and inequality in A Kind of People... our society!
The Heroine… My Epilogue
I’ve been a fan of Petra Letang since Babyfather in the early nought-ies.
A few years ago I saw her at the Screen Nation awards and boy did she have presence!!
Letang does a brilliant job with her character Karen... as a sister... to Gary - and although not on stage enough, every moment was optimised, offering some of the best one liners of the play.
Letang's incredible comedic timing had me in stiches, and there was a moment where she waited for the audience to gain composure and repeated her line again, for those who didn't hear it the first time.
I also enjoyed the subtlety of her alcohol dependency, her relationship and bond with Nicky and her scorn for creepy Mark (played by Thomas Coombes), Gary's work friend... who just is always there!
It was no surprise then that Karen - despite her own issues of loneliness and being a single parent was the saving grace for these Kind of People! The glue - for a cast, that may experience a fragment of discrimination... but she encompasses many more obvious fragments, and yet 'Still She rises' from class to race to gender to singleness to....
You get it.
The true heroine, that rescues Gary and Nicky from a brutal, unforgiving system that is against them for the beginning.
Like her character both on the stage and off, it is Letang's image that is most definitely representational of London. Modern day. Vibrant. Diverse. Hero(ine)!
A Kind of People at the Royal Court is on until Saturday 18th January and I highly recommend this one!
Directed by Michael Buffong
A star retracted for the epilogue