“You’re silencing it. You get people here by calling it ‘Sunday’, then they find out it’s about lesbians.” So went one woman’s feedback about the title of Joy Gharoro-Akpajotor’s hard-hitting, hair-raising solo playwright debut. We the audience were very split on this point, and the discussion raged, facilitated by award-winning writer and director Rikki Beadle-Blair as he darted from left to right, negotiating the rush of raised hands: “It’s getting serious!”.
Some claimed the title worked; after all, the play follows three generations of Christian women and is set on the day of the week observed as special by the Christian faith. For a while most seemed swayed, until another argued that this explicitness detracted from the universal nature of the play, which was why it was so powerful in the first place: though the cultural portrayal is specific, the play’s themes of guilt, alienation and loneliness are known to us all. Pause to consider. “That’s deep” nodded Beadle-Blair, arms folded resolutely. We were lost again.
Though our host had asked us at the start to consider the title’s relevance throughout the performance, I hadn’t, and like the mortified child that didn’t do her homework I kept my mouth shut during Q&A and hoped I wouldn’t get picked on. It wasn’t my fault: from the first instance, Sunday was a whirlwind, zealous and cunning, with a wry humour even at its most sinister developments, and as its secrets unravelled I forgot about the name entirely, engrossed in the lives of its characters.
‘Sunday’ follows a Nigerian family in the UK, three generations of women who are struggling to come to terms with their identities. Sarah is caught between Christianity and her overpowering love for another woman, her grandmother Doris spends her days talking to a ghost named Faye (her lover in Nigeria who paid for the fact with her life). Between the two is Abi, Sarah’s mother, Doris’ daughter, a violently strict Christian who uses religion as a mask to disguise her own sense of guilt. As ‘Sunday’ progresses, the family reveal their true selves to each other for the first time, and the result is anything but restful.
Gharoro-Akpojotor’s writing is sophisticated and her characters well-developed. The overall story simultaneously explores a specific culture and a universal issue in a truly gripping and harrowing style. Exposition is relied on heavily and at times this makes it feel a little clunky, giving the overly contrived feel of a soap-opera to an otherwise realistic setting. However, take into account that this is a working progress, this version only a staged reading, and given by five actresses who had not read the script through fully even once before, and the talent of both the writer and the performers becomes abundantly clear. Not only was the play, in these terms, incredible, but it was also incredibly unique, as one audience member pointed out in the post-performance Q&A: when was the last time you saw five fully-developed and dynamic black female protagonists on the British stage?
This was a portrayal made possible by both the Theatre Royal Stratford East and its commitment to showcasing new voices, and Rikki Beadle-Blair and his Team Angelica, who selected ‘Sunday’ and four other plays from a pool of entries to be staged in the Angelic Tales New Writing Festival. By providing feedback from first draft to last, Beadle-Blair and his team are helping these young writers to improve and hone their craft. As an audience member you truly feel part of that process, and knowing that your opinion of the play will contribute to its end, and ultimately to the progression of British theatre, is an incredible and empowering feeling. As was emphatically noted by Beadle-Blair, the Theatre Royal Stratford East is truly ‘the people’s theatre’, and Team Angelica’s ethos that everybody has a voice worth hearing is abundantly clear.
Angelic Tales New Writing Festival runs until Saturday 21st, with Aaron Gordon’s Sweatin’ It Out on Friday 20th June and Stephen Hoo’s Jamaica Boy on Saturday 21st June. Go and get your voice heard. 5/5
Review written by Claudia Winter.
‘Sunday’ was performed as part of Angelic Tales New Writing Festival on Wednesday 18th June at Theatre Royal Stratford East. For more information on the festival, visit here…