As ever, the Finborough impresses with its pairing of new writing talent alongside a stellar cast. Winner of the Papatango writing competition, Louise Monaghan’s play, Pack, follows the relationship of four modern women brought together by the game of bridge.
Unconventional as this sounds, the unfamiliarity of the game creates common ground for these seemingly very different women. On the one hand we have Deb (Angela Lonsdale) and Stephie (Sarah Smart); two white working class girls from Leeds, and on the other side of the bridge table- and the Leeds community- is the Asian doctor, Nasreen (Amita Dhiri). Under the careful guidance of their bridge teacher, Dianna (Denise Black), the three women not only learn about the complexities of the card game but also come to understand the nuances of the roles that each woman plays in the community; whether it be the responsibility of being a mother, a wife, a doctor or a teacher.
The play’s primary focus in the bridge room should not mislead the audience, however, as there are greater issues at stake than the dealing, bidding and slams that makes up the content of each evening’s class. The bigger issue which unites all the women of the play is also the problem that divides them: racism. At the heart of this play is a hostile racism that, more often than not, goes unnamed and is played out at its fringes. That is, the acts of racist violence that occur are always reported by the characters, and the audience only bears witness to the emotional turmoil of dealing with incidents of racism.
The women themselves are not exempt from acts of racism, though; Deb displays an immediate dislike for Nasreen based on her ethnicity and class, whilst Stephie’s ingenuous sweetness later gives way to nasty associations with the BNP. Initially, it seems that these women are powerless; they are connected to the acts and effects of racism simply because they are part of a racist society. This is where Monaghan’s writing is most praiseworthy. She takes a topic area that has reached near saturation point and presents it in a quiet yet affecting manner. She isn’t desperately trying to challenge stereotypes or shock the audience with the grotesque tales of racist violence, but rather she shows, through sharp characterisation, that individuals can choose to act; that they can separate themselves from a form of racism that has become ingrained in society. The play reaches a satisfying ending, it seems, not because the characters take any huge steps towards freeing their community from racism, but because their actions attempt to lessen the devastating effects of racism.
Pack is certainly deserving of its winning title in the Papatango competition, and this fantastic production of the play will hopefully ensure Monaghan a future place on the London stage.