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Shebeen (Nottingham Playhouse & Theatre Royal Stratford)


“Do you think dreams are wasted on people like us?”

It’s a hot and humid summer in 1958 St Ann’s, Nottingham. Tempers are flaring and Teddy Boys are on the march.

Jamaican couple Pearl and George are helping Caribbean migrants to cut loose by hosting a forbidden party at their Shebeen.

Pearl has dreams of opening a restaurant on the Wells Road. George, a retired boxer, has hung his dreams next to his gloves. A young interracial couple are falling in love and figuring out how to be together.

As tensions mount on a night filled with rum, calypso and dancing, and with the Shebeen under threat from the police, everyone is forced to confront the uncomfortable truths their relationships are built upon.

Specially commissioned by Nottingham Playhouse, Shebeen invites you to a party you never knew existed. Directed by Matthew Xia, this world premiere by Nottingham writer, Mufaro Makubika, shines a light on the Windrush generation: a community under siege and the sacrifices they made for love.


More information can be found here.

★★★★  The Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish:

'...[An] expertly cast, and played, production. [...] Hazel Ellerby’s Mrs Clark, Mary’s bewildered mother, respectability nestling with ingrained racism, begs Pearl to part the Romeo and Juliet-style lovebirds. “No one will touch her now,” she bitterly pleads. The night I attended, the audience at this famously diverse theatre reacted with vocal outrage at her words, and yet Makubika’s achievement is to set us in the presence of flawed human beings not cut-and-paste mouth-pieces. On the evidence of this – winner of the 2017 Alfred Fagon award for playwriting – he should go far.'

★★★★ The Guardian, Bridget Minamore:

'We spend 24 hours with Pearl (Martina Laird) and George (Karl Collins), a loved-up Jamaican couple in St Ann’s, Nottingham, who run an unlicensed “shebeen” or pub-style gathering in their damp-ridden house. The supporting cast shine: Rolan Bell’s smooth-talking Earnest and Danielle Walters’ pained Gayle, who is sacked for working faster than her white colleagues, show the complexities and hardships of the immigrant experience. An interracial couple, Linford and Mary (Theo Solomon and Chloe Harris), struggle against hostility and come across as so tenderly in love that they are easy to root for. [...] 

But it is Laird’s Pearl who anchors the play, her excellent, steely performance saying so much about the strength that Windrush-era black matriarchs had to show – even if they didn’t always feel it. Alongside Collins’ strong turn as George, the conflicted ex-boxer who just wants the best for his family, the cast brings the best out of Mufaro Makubika’s script, which won the 2017 Alfred Fagon award.

Makubika’s writing can be funny but he doesn’t often go for easy laughs, instead letting tension slowly build around his characters. The dialogue is also stripped back; pauses and silence are given space to sit in the air. Matthew Xia’s unhurried direction pulls everything together to a tense climax.'

★★★★ The Times, Sam Marlowe:

'Makubika’s writing is sometimes raw and occasionally brutal, yet it’s also full of tenderness and joy. And Matthew Xia’s production is electrified with tension. Jamaican immigrants George (Karl Collins) and charismatic, ambitious Pearl (Martina Laird) run a shebeen; they turn the downstairs rooms of their damp, cluttered St Ann’s home into an informal club, where their friends from the Caribbean community come to drink, dance and socialise. [...]

As a story of Windrush-generation anguish, the play is not just potent, but also shamefully current. It teems, too, with beautifully drawn characters. Laird is enthralling as Pearl, pragmatic, tough and sensual, chafing against the expectation that she will somehow be a mother to everybody who walks through her door looking for comfort. And Collins’s gentle George has the wiry power of a slightly grizzled pugilist, still waiting, watchful, in his corner, and ready, when he’s pushed too far, for one last swing. A knockout.'

★★★★  Evening Standard, Henry Hitchings:

'Matthew Xia’s well-cast production captures the shebeen’s genial atmosphere. Yet even as the conversations meander there are hints of trouble. Although the police at first seem willing to turn a blind eye to the after-dark entertainment, prim neighbours view it with suspicion. As ugly resentments fester nearby, the warm relationship between Theo Solomon’s suave Linford and white schoolteacher Mary (Chloe Harris) is a particular source of grievance for some. 

The strength of Makubika’s writing is his ability to create rounded, engaging characters. The action in a dense second half could do with more breathing space, but there are some scorching scenes and moments of ripe humour. Karl Collins impresses as tightly wound George, contemplating a final payday in the ring, and Martina Laird is devastating as Pearl, who’s one of life’s survivors yet is tested to the limit.'

British Theatre Guide, Steve Orme:

'The play highlights anxiety in the neighbourhood because of racial undercurrents which are fuelled by the relationship between Linford, a black man, and Mary, a young white woman, sensitively portrayed by Theo Solomon and Chloe Harris. The Caribbean community is brought together at Pearl and George’s shebeen where they can relax and be themselves. [...]  There are significant performances from Rolan Bell as the carefree, cocksure Earnest who lights up the stage whenever he appears, Karl Haynes as rational good cop Sergeant Williams and Adam Rojko Vega as headstrong bad cop Constable Reed and boxing promoter Robert Dunne. [...] Shebeen expertly shines a light on a community which suffered violence and intolerance simply because of their colour.'

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Photographs: Richard Hubert Smith

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