“It’s your actions that make you white, not your skin colour,” a character heatedly tells Gabriel Bisset-Smith’s Lysander at the climax of Whitewash.
It’s an absorbing, knotty idea, one that is turned over and examined with deftness and incisive wit in Charlotte Bennett’s agile production inspired by Bisset-Smith’s own experiences.
Rebekah Murrell and Bisset-Smith play a mixed-race woman and her white son (as well as a multitude of other well-sketched characters), flitting between the 1990s, when Mary suffers consistent class and race-based indignities while trying to raise her son, and the present day, as Lysander, an ostensibly white, middle-class man, seeks to refurbish the London estate he grew up on, much to the chagrin of his childhood friend, Lilly.
Bisset-Smith’s play is a joy, slickly written but not without heart, fusing smart social commentary with consistently strong humour: “Pills are the high of the people,” Murrell’s Mary enthuses during a surprisingly non-cringey nightclub scene. Intersections of class and race are examined with real care. Bisset-Smith ends the play on a confidently uneasy note, but while it is technically his show, Murrell steals it completely.
Flitting across Jemima Robinson’s smart, just-a-little-too-bright-and-too-white traverse set, Murrell’s performance seems almost effortless – she’s engaging, tenacious and charismatic as Mary, but brings equal nuance and spirit to her other roles.
Bennett’s direction is precise but playful, and the production feels utterly cohesive, from Asaf Zohar’s unobtrusive but textured sound design, to Daniel Denton’s evocative video designs, which give the sense of a city shifting below Lysander and Mary’s feet.