Review: Coldharbour Lane

Maria Paradinas Reviews ‘Coldharbour Lane’,  a play by Ella Alalade.

Brand new theatre company Beyond the Elephant showcased their debut production, ‘Coldharbour Lane’, this week at the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft. Set in Thatcherian Britain, the play examines the urbanscape of a Brixton in flux. It provides a tender and touching yet playfully humorous exploration of social unrest, social mobility, gentrification and immigration. ‘Coldharbour Lane’ fiercely pronounces the validity and importance of narratives outside the usual mainstream.

The venue was a perfectly apt space for this performance. Flanked by graffiti, a sign reading ‘QUESTION EVERYTHING’ loomed over the stage and the sounds of Stokes Croft bore into the room, concordant with the play’s scrutiny of media influence, political tyranny and celebration of community. An ode to Brixton, ‘Coldharbour Lane’ tells the story of three teenagers, Sam, Nadia and Daniel and their mother figure first-generation Nigerian refugee Mary, as they navigate the social and political environment of SW9 post-riots.

The play delicately explores large, overarching social and political issues in a domestic setting, reflecting on the ways in which these issues manifest themselves on personal levels. Conceptions of personal and collective identity, and interpersonal relationships at that, are certainly pervaded throughout the play. The nuances in the various responses to the changing surroundings are focalised in a sophisticated and sensitive way: we are allowed access to each character’s interiority and bear witness to how the courses of their lives are carved out by external forces.

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‘Coldharbour Lane’ combines elements of tragic-comedy and critical fabulation. Writer Ella Alalade constructs a historical narrative that has been and continues to be, for the most part, overlooked and ignored by mainstream media. The play creatively renders the multifaceted minority experience in South London during a period of the 80s, and then again 10 years later, in a style that is at once abundantly rich and richly funny.

Beyond the Elephant’s first show is testimony to the theatre company’s pledge to produce plays that are radical in the Bristol-based student theatre scene. Providing alternative narratives that are often ignored by or excluded from the mainstream and showcasing vital talent from Bristol’s BME student community, ‘Coldharbour Lane’ is the breath of fresh air that we’ve all been waiting for.

Illustration courtesy of Beyond the Elephant.

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