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Promenade plays a highlight of City of Culture year

Faith, various city centre sites and online, Friday, 10 September and Saturday 11 September.

How do we understand the mysteries and challenges that life throws at us? What keeps us going in tough times and where do we find hope? Difficult questions that formed the basis of four new plays, under the banner Faith. The promenade plays were performed in and around Coventry city centre by a cast of professional actors, in a co-production between Coventry City of Culture and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Each play told a story of Coventry families and friends and their relationship with faith and hope.

Our reviewers were at two of the productions...

The Return, Coventry Cathedral, 11 September.

By Peter Walters

Forty years on, a chance meeting on the cathedral steps sets two old friends on a collision course about the way their lives have gone and what the city of their youth has become.

For Caroline, recently returned after half a lifetime away, Coventry perhaps still feels like the place she left behind all those years ago. Neil, by contrast, never did leave and as a powerful local politician is now at the heart of controversial plans to mould the city into something different, plans fiercely opposed by Caroline's activist daughter Jasmine.

Long-harboured feelings of rejection and loss emerge as they try to re-engage with each other, uncertain whjere it might lead.

Chris O'Connell's one-hour play, performed in promenade around the cathedral area, blends the personal and political stories of those forty years into an absorbing piece of theatre, brought to life and given the solid stamp of reality by a terrific cast of Katy Stephens, Matthew Wait and Sarah Cullum. The debate about the city's future direction is a timely one in 2021. The truths laid bare in the powerful relationship between Caroline and Neil are timeless.

The Arrival (pictured above)

By Barbara Goulden One of the more inspired productions for City of Culture took place on Saturday morning. I was among an audience of some 200 people to don sterilised headphones and take a journey back through the Coventry of 1978 as we followed a pair of newly arrived immigrants from the Punjab. Starting in Broadgate, we watched as Balbir and his heavily pregnant wife Mandeep, stepped off a bus to begin their new life in a place they'd only heard of via a cousin who ran a curry restaurant somewhere near a church. After an enthusiastic welcome from The Bhangra Dancers Sahyadri Friends, we slowly followed as the Sikh couple made their through the city centre to the edge of Spon Street where a fake red telephone box had been conveniently installed. Balbir was horrified when he stepped inside - beside the phone was a picture of a naked lady on a horse! Naturally he was too embarrassed to dial and later confessed he had been warned his new home was big on naked ladies. Things start to look up at the nearby Quaker Meeting House but take a downhill turn again when the couple walk round the corner into Lower Holyhead Road where they encountered first friendship - then racism - outside the youth centre where a band called The Automatics - later The Specials - are trying out a few tunes. And so the journey continues with the weary Mandeep being given a ride in a supermarket trolley as they make their way on to The Belgrade Theatre where their new friends conduct a more determined hunt for a "Ruby Murray" - slang for a curry - and the restaurant that just might contain the elusive relatives. Because we were outside The Belgrade, teenagers from the youth theatre group were instructed to offer us a pastiche of modern multi-cultural Coventry incorporating some slightly confusing choreography intended to incorporate all other nationalities and disabilities. The play overall was an excellent piece of work by playwright Chinonyerem Odimba - although how the new arrivals were expected to interpet the sign language of a deaf girl advising them to dial 999, was baffling to put it mildly. Still, the missing relatives were found, a baby was born, and all ends happily. As Balbir pronounced: "We'll have to get to know Coventry - and Coventry will have to get to know us."

The five-strong cast were: Annice Boparai, Sarah Cullum, Jack Gardner, Darryl Hughes and Anand Toora. *The Arrival was one of two plays by Odimba, who also contributed Generation 20, featuring the grandson of Balbir and Mandeep. Chris O'Connell of Theatre Absolute contributed both The Return and The Messenger.


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