Writer: Chinonyerem Odimba
Director: Katie Posner
Reviewer: Miriam Sallon
Sitting waiting in the auditorium for the slightly late curtain, it’s very clear that this is no ordinary audience. There is none of the usual tension in the brow, preparing to look upon the impending performances with strict judgement, nor the impatient watch-checking every two minutes, thinking about the commute home. Instead, there’s a buzz of giddy anticipation, like the first night of a school play, young and old alike murmuring excitedly amongst themselves. This might have something to do with the one-hundred-strong cast made up entirely of Brent locals who are performing over the next few days, not to showcase their Stanislavski-trained emotional range or twenty years of dance classes, but rather to celebrate the strength of the local community, whose remaining constituents are no doubt sitting in the audience.
The Seven Ages of Patience, directed by Katie Posner, takes us through various stages in the life of Patience, a midwife determined to contribute to the happiness of her neighbours, be it through medical aid before the NHS kicked in, or orchestrating her funeral to be a party, complete with a cross-generational guestlist and a steel pan band.
Patience might be fictional but much of Chinonyerem Odimba’s script is based on verbatim stories from Brent locals, and historical events such as the two-year Grunswick Strike in ‘76, or the murder of Stephen Lawrence in ‘93, giving the sense that Patience might as well have been real; that she is an amalgam of many loved characters.
The design (Lily Arnold) is of the high calibre we have come to expect at Kiln Theatre: split across two levels, the upper a local radio show that’s hijacked by Patience’s friends to spread the word of this wonderful woman, and the lower taking the weight of the story. It’s clear that whilst the cast themselves are rookies, the production team are old-hat, bringing with them the mastery of professional theatre- quite a treat for a community play.
It’s difficult to comment on the performances themselves because, as the programme clearly states, this is a community play created, not with the intention of wowing a strange audience, but rather with the idea of celebrating the neighbourhood and its neighbours. And in this it succeeds. Whilst it’s clear that many of the cast are by no means professional actors, it is also abundantly clear how joyous an experience this is for them, and for the rest of the community sat in the audience.
For sure, The Seven Ages of Patience is not an edgy, innovative production set to transfer to the West End. But it does what it intends to do, which is to bring a community together. And in a time when many say that local communities are extinct, Brent is here to say it isn’t so.
Runs until: 28 September, 2019 | Image: Mark Douet