Shebeen review at Nottingham Playhouse – ‘fine production of an authentic but flawed play’
Mufaro Makubika’s first main-stage play, Shebeen won the 2017 Alfred Fagon Award for best new work by a black British playwright, in advance of production. He’s a fine writer and a Nottingham man, but the riches are packed into its short and brilliant second half and it can sometimes feel like a work in progress.
Set in the St Ann’s area of Nottingham on the eve of the city’s 1958 race riots, it’s about a Caribbean couple, Pearl and George, who operate an illegal bar (a ‘shebeen’) from their terraced house. It’s a gathering place for their community, and the long first half portrays a laid-back party at which the audience is like an eavesdropper on scattered conversation.
Ugliness and brutality break in and there’s a theatrical tour de force as elements of the set disintegrate. A policeman hurls a racial insult that gets a collective intake of breath.
Martina Laird as Pearl and Karl Collins as George give beautifully rounded performances. They are complex characters and there’s a particularly tender moment when he massages her bare feet.
But the highlight of the play is a confrontation between Pearl and the mother of Mary (Chloe Harris), a white girl in love with a black man. The deeply rooted prejudice it exposes is more damaging than the bricks thrown in the riots.
Editor’s note: this review was updated on June 6 to remove references to behaviour of other audience members during this production.
We need your help…
When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.
The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.
We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.
Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.