Note: This review is from the 2019 Fringe

This captivating piece of theatre, based on the book by Nigel Gray and Michael Foreman, revolves around cultural differences, misperceptions and stereotypes. One could argue history is still repeating itself in today’s world, making this production so relevant for younger audiences. Two immigrant families live in close proximity, yet miles apart in their parenting practices, behaviours and ways of ‘running’ a household.

Its 1981, Coventry, the Tories are in power. Local industries are collapsing and unemployment is on the rise; it’s hard times. Young Ashley, daughter to a hardworking single mum, second generation immigrant from Barbados, is very bored. The voices in Ashley’s head constantly sing the sound of the times – ska. The Two-tone tunes of The Beat, The Specials and The Selecter pulse throughout this show, getting feet tapping.

The underlying momentum of the seductive beat pulls Ashley through all sorts of adventures, as she attempts to make life more interesting. Household objects play out scenes from Star Wars with its intergalactic clashes, to a full-on basketball game involving the Harlem Globetrotters. Imagination runs riot. Mess and calamity ensue. The cast chant ‘black or white, it don’t feel right’ to the constant hum of progression and a search for identity, both for Ashley and for the country itself. The personal becomes the political.

Part of the Windrush generation and with very strict standards, Ashley’s mum threatens to send her to be punished by the mysterious Mrs Cole (who apparently eats babies and lives in dirt). She needs Ashley to help housework. Ashley has other things on her mind. The intensity of impending doom rises – but there is a twist in the tale.

A co-production with Polka Theatre, Catherine Alexander delivers the creativity and signature brand of quality physical theatre that you come to expect from Complicite. The set design by Jemima Robinson is cleverly thought out, featuring the atmospheric smoke of a failing city on the decline. Inventive lighting and animation projections on to household objects add to the visual texture of the scenes. The two-tone set, dancing and sound mesh nicely together. But things aren’t all black and white.

This play is packed with raw energy and punch. Experience the uplifting joy of ska but also feel the tension and effort of establishing a way of life in a new country. Heart-warming and funny, bringing insight into a time and a place that has total relevance to what is happening in society today, it is a delight to watch, particularly for all those kids (or adults!) searching for hope and identity.