Belgrade Theatre review: May Queen
May Queen, Belgrade B2 theatre until July 2
By Chris Arnot
The title sounds very English. What could be more so than a May Queen being crowned with a hog roast nearby, cider being swilled and Morris dancers preparing to prance?
So rustic. So idyllic. So reminiscent of traditions that have gone on for centuries up and down “this green and pleasant land”.
There’s even a mention at one point of a gnarled and ancient tree. Not as a reference to some equally ancient ritual but as the background to one of the more shocking scenes in a drama harbouring a few surprises.
But no, we’re not in rural England. We’re in Coventry where the main character grew up. Her name is Leigh and she’s of West Indian heritage.
A feisty character in her seventeenth year, she has to put up with not only sexist stares, comments and cat-calls but some racist ones as well.
Still, she knows how to enjoy herself and is undoubtedly delighted by her elevation to local celebrity for a day. Until, that is, the day turns sour. Horribly sour at a crucial hour for a young woman trying to steer her way through a life that has done her few favours so far.
Leigh is played by Yasmin Dawes who gives an extraordinary performance. Not least because she has to keep in her head an hour and a half’s worth of dialogue, written by Frankie Meredith, while engaging with an audience ranged around her.
Yes, the seating is circular. So is the simple, only slightly raised central stage. Under Balisha Karra’s direction and Chris McDonnell’s design, the lighting is used sparingly for much of the time yet dramatically at . . . well, dramatic moments.
And when the lights come on fully at the end, it’s noticeable that the audience is far more youthful and racially mixed than those that tend to be found in mainstream theatres such as the one next door.
Not for the first time, B2 has given us an edgy, thought-provoking production on which the future of theatre depends.
Picture by Nicola Young