Pros: A close-knit, uproarious and heart-warming audience, and one of the most enjoyable ones I ever belonged to.
Cons: The long and narrow venue is not suitable for hosting over 300 people for an unamplified show.
Nathan Powell is a young playwright and director who emerged during a showcase of new writing at Theatre503. After winning the competition with his play Takeaway, he has decided to develop it into a one-hour single-act piece and take it to the Hackney Attic for its premiere. He’s also in charge of the promotion and, during the show, he’s behind the sound desk to launch the musical inserts.
The Hackney Attic is a long and narrow room with around 300 individual chairs aligned in rows. The space is tight and the view isn’t great, since all the seats are on the same level. Located above the Hackney Picturehouse, the space seems more suitable for film screenings than live shows on a stage. During the performance I was sat half-way from the front and I struggled to hear the unamplified voices of the actors, whilst also occasionally receiving the noise coming from the bar at the back. I suppose a curtain could have helped in soundproofing the sitting area.
Nonetheless – despite the restricted view and the poor acoustics – Takeaway is a theatrical gem, as well as a social outcry, simple and straightforward. In July 2016, the recent killing of two innocent black citizens by the US Police sparked a series of sit-ins in Brixton. Chanting ‘black lives matter’, the demonstrators expressed their discontent over the progressing gentrification of the area, which risks driving out the local Caribbean-British community. As someone who belongs to the same ethnic background, Powell is aware of the preconceptions that feed the conflict and finds a light-hearted yet poignant way to point out the mistakes on both sides.
The play tells the story of Carol (Sharla Smith), a Jamaican takeaway restaurant owner who has trouble overcoming the generational gap with her daughter Shelly (Nicola Maisie Taylor). Carol refuses to acknowledge the relationship between Shelly and Richard (Lewis Irani) mainly because he’s white. ‘A black woman should be with a black man, a white man will never understand a black woman, especially a black woman like you who doesn’t even understand herself’, she shouts at one point. Meanwhile, Carol’s second daughter Browning (Maia Watkins) watches comedian wannabe Leroy (Sotonye Ogan) who, during his rehearsal, delves into the controversial dynamics of gentrification, highlighting the invasive expansion of high street food chains. Takeaway is rich in comedic moments, but the subject is serious and resounds in the bare set built at the Hackney Attic.
I only wish I had been closer to the stage to better appreciate the actors’ individual skills. Instead, I was immersed in a beautifully uproarious crowd that cheered and roared at the sound of Jamaican dancehall music coming from the stage. I loved the easy-going but thought-provoking take on such an urgent matter, and I enjoyed the close-knit community atmosphere and diversity of the audience, including the lady sat in front of me who had a sightline-obscuring beehive of dreadlocks.
I really hope to see Takeaway on stage again soon, in a more suitable venue and with a more generous budget.
Written and Directed by: Nathan Powell
Producer: The Cohala Collective
Booking Information: This show has now completed its run.