Britain watched horrified as news of the Oldham riots broke in 2001, but did we get the balanced viewpoint? Many news items focused on images of aggressive young Asian men but, as this play proves, there are two sides to every story. This ground breaking production tells the story of young Asians who were actually there and aims to inform audiences through the power of dance, humour and poetry what it was like to be part of these terrifying riots and their aftermath, which has become more relevant in today's uneasy political climate.
The piece, produced by Peshkar Productions, was originally created as part of the Commonwealth Games 'Cultureshock' arts festival, since which audiences and critics have embraced the play, it is not difficult to see why. Where many would shy away from controversial themes like biased reporting and what constitutes 'British Identity', director, Iain Bloomfield goes straight for the jugular. The audience is exposed to realistic fight scenes, juxtaposed with monologues that are based on real interviews. Much of what you hear is shocking and uncomfortable, but the play's content is unflinchingly honest and hard to turn away from. Rich humour, dance, and Jaydev Mistry's 'in yer face' hip-hop music create an amazing fusion of ideas which, although confused at times, remain inspired and original throughout.
The cast of five deliver multi-layered performances veering from the aggressive, to passive and frightening to humorous. Jaheda Choudury, Anjub Ali, Aklakur Rahman, Mahmood Ali and Shahena Choudhury all thrive in the limelight and the messages they deliver to an enthused audience are powerful and universally relevant. The talented cast also wrote the vivid script along with director Bloomfield, this works to strengthen their performances and all the actors seem to connect with their characters rather than just uttering meaningless lines.
The lighting design by Jeremy Nicholls is imposing at times, using the colour red to denote danger, it adds a menacing edge to the proceedings. The simple set design features a pile of bricks, five chairs and a petrol bomb, which also provide an evocative backdrop.
The only flaw with Just Before The Rain is that it sometimes lacks depth leaving you searching for what motivates individual characters. Otherwise this is a hypnotic play that has much to say complete with innovative style and gusto.
- by Glenn Meads