Theatre Review: Stefan Dunbar a star in the making in Me You Us Them
PLAYWRIGHT Andrea Montgomery has a way with characterisation. In Me You Us Them, premiered in the Shaftesbury Theatre last night with Terra Nova, she held up a clear mirror to Northern Ireland society as it adjusts to difference.
It’s a jigsaw drama. We meet individuals sharing their immigration stories in often affecting monologues and eventually their stories slot together, (a metaphor for the way fragmentation has to give way to unity.)
It begins with Constance, a part Nigerian girl who arrives in Belfast to discover that in the classroom, she meets with institutionalised racism. Why would her teacher deliver a class on good and bad leaders, asking the pupils to pin white ‘good’ hats on the nice ones, black ‘bad’ hats on the dictators? As she says sadly “I don’t want to pin a white hat on Nelson Mandela.”
One surprise is the humour woven through this necessarily didactic piece. The racist characters (for instance), are cleverly done. Kyle, who may well hail from east Belfast, has as his refrain “I’m not a racist”. The “but…” comes in his expletives-deleted rant about how his street has been taken over by black immigrants. (His sense of losing his patch was a believable piece of context.)
Others react differently to the changes in the neighbourhood. Maybe Ryan with his slight fetish for gorgeous black girls’ wrists best illustrates how easy it is to end up patronising those you don’t wish to offend.
“Am I a reverse racist?” he muses in a glorious passage about wanting to touch the pretty arm of the barista in the coffee shop.
Two impressive actors, Melissa Dean and Stefan Dunbar – yes, Adrian Dunbar’s nephew, who is a star in the making – double up as the cast of characters. The connections pan out plausibly. So the Jamaican nurse Janice, insulted routinely by her elderly charge in the home (maybe slightly overdone), encounters his grandson Ryan who ends up planning a date with Constance.
Happy, or near-happy endings, crop up next to the pain. The Chinese doctor, Howard, who says after a hate attack, “I feel a failure”, doesn’t want to go home. But Kyle manages some sort of accommodation with his neighbour and offers her a ciggie.
Ryan gets what he wants. Dunbar’s India rubber face contorts as he sees his hopes of happiness with the pretty, educated girl recede then approach. The actors spun the scene out delightfully.
If there was a message from the piece – which was influenced by workshops with new arrivals in Northern Ireland and directed by the author – it was that if we only connect, there is hope.