NO BLACKS. NO DOGS, NO POLES
by Tom O’Brien.
Pentameters Theatre above The Horseshoe Pub 28 Heath Street NW3 6TE To 8 June 2014.
Tue-Sat 8pm Mat Sun 5pm.
Runs 1hr 45min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7435 3648.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 25 May.
A new look at an old problem.
There are no Poles in Tom O’Brien’s new play. Or dogs. There’s one Black person, Cathy, written and played as a role-model for decency. Under attack by a racist, drug-dealing thug, she has no chance to show her Martial Arts prowess (he’s bound by tape in an armchair). But her skill as a doctor comes into play with a character who’s been stabbed.
Cathy is native Australian, brought to his native Ireland by Michael. Who doesn’t sound Irish because he was brought up in London. Where his father Con lived till things got rather hot for him there and he returned with his wife Marion to the old country.
Con’s memories of being a young Irishman in London evoke the old notices in boarding-house windows: ‘No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish’. Now, O’Brien says, it would be ‘No Poles’. Lying behind his play is the tendency for an unwelcome group to arrive, establish itself, then join the hostility to the next wave of newcomers.
Matthew Ward’s Con dominates the stage in physical presence and forthright speaking, but not the arguments, which his long-suffering wife Marion wins. She doesn’t share her husband’s prejudices, but she won’t have the obscenities-hurling Jimmy in the house. It’s the irony of Con’s position that he takes against Cathy but is indulgent to the vicious Jimmy.
O’Brien scatters misunderstandings and conflicts through a play which comes to the boil in its second half. Before, at least in Jesse Matthew Cooper’s production, there’s a need for less sitting around talking – it makes the amount of exposition obvious – and for bringing-out moments of enlivening humour. It’s all decently, if straightforwardly, acted; what’s missing is complexity.
O’Brien sees old prejudices being new-born and rightly writes about it. But they return with a different language which the play translates back to that of the early sixties. The point perhaps being that the thought’s the same, and the words may soon return to express them.
But there are new aspects to the argument. Colour prejudice and anti-European immigration overlap but aren’t identical. It’s the old enemies that are taken on here.
Marion: Lucy Aley-Parker.
Jimmy: Jack Bradley.
JJ: Jesse Matthew Cooper.
Michael: Nathaniel Fairnington.
Cathy: Rachel Summers.
Con: Matthew Ward.
Director: Jesse Matthew Cooper.