Reviewed – 28th June 2022
“Williams brings nuance and care to a conversation that often feels impossible to even broach”
The Fellowship, directed by Paulette Randall, sees writer Roy Williams return to the conversation he began with his 2021 play, Death Of England: Delroy : What does it mean to be black and British? Does it mean something different today compared to, say, twenty, or fifty years ago? Has anything changed? Is change even possible?
Three generations of one family, all living in the UK, all struggling to place themselves within a society that has historically and repeatedly tried to reject and diminish them. The trouble with this line of inquiry is not that it’s not compelling or apposite, but that it’s just so big. So, what we end up with is a near-on three-hour play that rarely takes a breather, and struggles to conclude.
Having grown up in the same hard, harsh environment, with a mother (now ailing off-stage) who came to the UK in the Windrush generation, sisters Marcia and Dawn have responded in contrast. As Marcia says, “You’re nothing but trauma, Dawn, you always have been. And I’ve always been a selfish cow.” In other words, Dawn remains an open wound, unable to heal from society’s repeated othering. Whereas Marcia has decided to take what she can, only looking out for herself. But neither have been able to truly break free.
So we look to the next generation, Dawn’s son Jermaine (Ethan Hazzard) who is in love with a white woman (Rosie Day), but unable to tell his family who consider her the enemy.
It’s an excellent structure for a discussion on racism, inherited trauma, and generational change. But Williams seems incapable of letting a thought hang in the air. Instead, every conversation is double as long as it should be, tracing and retracing what he said, what she said, what everyone did and when they did it. Three hours of yelling ends up sounding like white noise after a while, and though there are plenty of endearing relational minutiae (the sisters bumping boobs, or dancing to white pop music) latticed amongst the intensity, it’s all delivered at the same turbulent place; there’s rarely a minute to breathe.
Cherrelle Skeete and Suzette Llewellyn have an excellent rapport as sisters, which is all the more impressive given that Skeete has only been rehearsing this part for two weeks- Lucy Vandi had to suddenly withdraw due to ill health. In fact, despite occasional scenes holding the script, Skeete is arguably the strongest cast member, flitting between affection and intense rage with veristic ease.
Libby Watson’s design- Scandi sofas and table encircled by a futuristic LED halo, which glows blue or red in accordance with instructions for Alexa- serves as a clean, modern canvas for the chaotic storyline, and sits in clever contrast to the script’s subject, as old as time: Us and Them.
Williams brings nuance and care to a conversation that often feels impossible to even broach. The casting is clever and fun, and there are multiple moments where the audience finds themselves humming in endorsement. But ultimately it just doesn’t feel finished yet; the script needs a red pen and a harsh eye.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography by Robert Day
Hampstead Theatre until 23rd July
Previously reviewed at this venue: