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BWW Review: Tricycle Reopens as the Kiln Theatre


BWW Review: Tricycle Reopens as the Kiln Theatre

BWW Review: Tricycle Reopens as the Kiln Theatre It's all change at the Kiln (was Tricycle) Theatre, with a £5.5 million redevelopment resulting in a bright, light, spacious and welcoming new building - complete with a more obvious street presence, comfortable café/bar area, plentiful ladies' loos, and a flexible auditorium with plush seats and improved sight lines.

A shame, then, that its opening has been dominated by debate (from protests to open letters) over the new name. My thoughts, in short: as a Kilburn resident, I don't have a particular affinity with words beginning 'K-I-L', and I'm not sure the reasoning should require an accompanying manifesto. Also, Tricycle is just peppier and trips off the tongue more easily than Kiln.

On the other hand, the fact that the tireless AD Indhu Rubasingham has managed this major overhaul in straitened Brexit times, and programmed a thrilling season that shows firm commitment to diverse and resonant ideas, forms, voices and stories, is a brilliant achievement and deserves our wholehearted support. Change isn't always easy, or universally popular, but it's what keeps theatre moving forward.

On the other other hand... this opener, Holy Sh!t (also directed by Rubasingham), while thematically suitable and engaging, is something of a flawed work. A scene-setter, really, rather than starting the Kiln's new era with a bang.

Alexis Zegerman's premise is a provocative one: two sets of liberal, middle-class parents trying to get their children into the local Ofsted-Outstanding C of E primary school. Simone is Jewish, and atheist husband Sam is more committed to weed than organised religion; while Juliet and Nick have been raised Christian.

None are especially devout, but the overt pretence of faith to win a school place - Simone and Sam start attending church, and Simone even gets confirmed - reveals buried tensions in their friendship and marriages.

The real flashpoint comes in an exchange of words between the (unseen) four-year-old daughters: one reportedly using the term "Jew", the other commenting on her friend's skin colour. Did the girls overhear something from their parents, and if so, aren't they more responsible for their children's formation than whichever school they pick?

Zegerman's piece is slow to get going, relying on creaky humour like a Studio 54-themed anniversary party, schematic debates, and stand-up-esque monologues. Her quartet feels more like rotating mouthpieces for a seminar on religion and parenting - with occasional punchlines - than believable people.

It's also cosily middle-class and with a fairly old-fashioned view of gender roles, from the Le Creuset mug thrown in anger to men rolling their eyes at women overreacting about a wrongly stacked dishwasher.

However, the second half works better, as we get a more personal take on the issues. There's a poignant discussion between Nick, a well-meaning black state school teacher, and Juliet, who swapped her high-powered marketing job for motherhood, as the latter voices frustration that Sophie still prefers her dad, and that Juliet can't work out how to do her mixed-race daughter's hair.

Another standout scene occurs while sitting shiva, as the two women reminisce about their university days and very different mothers, and Nick recalls a trip back to Nigeria for a funeral, where his extended family's long-held beliefs clashed with his grandmother's Christianity.

That opens up a thoughtful discussion of how religion provides rituals when we need them - to cope with death, work through our grief, and maintain a connection to those we've lost - as well as a sense of community, familiar tradition, or a framework for our own identity.

Dorothea Myer-Bennett is excellent as the motor-mouthed, brazen Simone, very funny when competitively over-singing hymns, poignant when realising that, as an only child, she has no one to share family memories with. Daniel Lapaine is amusing as her feckless husband, whose arrested development gives him a teen-esque slouch and sulkiness.

Claire Goose hints at anxious Juliet's own identity crisis, or perhaps even latent racism, which manifests in her caring too much about Simone's denial of her heritage, and Daon Broni is superb when earnest, quiet, peace-making Nick finally reveals why he takes such pains to be amenable.

Robert Jones's set effectively shows the subtle financial disparity between the two couples, and evokes the all-important kids via discarded scooters, unicorn toys and wellies.

Zegerman's play is most gripping when it tackles taboo subjects head on, whether discomfort about the local Muslim-majority comprehensive school, the affluent still making a claim on free services, our pick-and-choose buffet-style approach to religion, or the flawed educational system that results in "state-sanctioned segregation" and deceit.

Particularly incendiary - and topical - is the exploration of anti-Semitism. But with this, as with much of its examination of prejudice, the play loses nuance by introducing dramatic leaps or having everyone shout over one another. It compares unfavourably with more structurally sound works like God of Carnage.

Nevertheless, it's a good piece to chew over afterwards in the theatre's handsome and inclusive communal spaces. And, with its themes of changing identity and labels, plus a divisive title, it's appropriate meta programming for the new Kiln, if an imperfect piece of drama.

Holy Sh!t at Kiln Theatre until 6 October

Read Alexis Zegerman's guest blog

Photo credit: Mark Douet

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From This Author Marianka Swain