It was brave of Theresa Heskins, its
outgoing artistic director, to reposition Pentabus from a simple
touring outfit serving principally the English-Welsh border region to a
new writing company. One suspects that its principal constituency may
be rather conservative in that respect, as in a number of others.
Indeed, that is pretty much the subject of these seven ten-minute
monologues by different writers: their primary topic is rural racism.
But as matters are portrayed here, ethnicity often seems simply to be
one more easy identifier for an attitude towards "incomers" in general
– three of the protagonists seem to encounter awkwardness for being
Londoners as much as for being black or Asian.
As usual with such collections, the evening proves a bit of a mixed
bag. Courttia Newland's A Question
, excellently performed by Jimmy Akingbola, uses
town/country and black/white oppositions as a way into considering
broader matters of personal relationships and sexuality. In The Management Reserve The Right
Richard Rai O'Neill, Habib Nasib Nader gives a very canny performance,
appearing to play his role as the black landlord of a chain-owned
village pub for laughs until it is revealed that the prejudice in
question is not towards him but towards travellers who want to drink
there. In Joy's Prayer
Marchant, Jean Boht is as simple and as powerful as I have seen her
onstage, explaining to God that she cannot in conscience serve Him in
the village church as long as a racist priest remains. Conversely,
Rommi Smith's Mountain Knows Me
is a crass old-codger rant modulated by some equally unsubtle
nostalgia; and Letting Yourself Go
by Kara Miller, in which a middle-aged woman's fit of rage in the
village shop is simply the symptom of a minor breakdown due to spousal
abuse and adultery, ticks all the boxes rather too neatly. Heskins'
unfussy production (her last before taking over the reins at the New
Vic in the Potteries) lets the words speak for themselves; when they
do, they suggest that sometimes one's assumptions about rural attitudes
can be confounded by openness and welcome... just as, perhaps,
Pentabus's new writing ventures have been.
Written for the Financial Times.