"Brixton ain't what it used to be". The same could well be said for the area surrounding Park Theatre, or Elephant and Castle, Peckham and many more of London's districts. Gentrification is a live problem not only in the capital but numerous British cities and Archie Maddocks' A Place For We explores the process with clarity and sadness, but a good deal of humour also.
There is a risk with basing a play around gentrification that the story comes across as overly didactic or educational, but part of the reason Maddocks succeeds here is by weaving the social consequences into the plot at every turn. Far from being a list of facts and figures, there is real emotion in watching a landlord and lady lose their pub in the '70s to a Trinidadian funeral director, who in turn is bought out by a middle-class couple intent on converting the space into a fancy wine bar.
A Place For We is therefore less about solely damning gentrification and more concerned with conveying that change is an irrevocable part of life. This is not to say that human beings are passengers in this process, far from it. How urban spaces change over time, and how we try to make these situations as fair as possible for the less fortunate, are the bigger questions Maddocks poses.
Make no mistake, this production can be uncomfortable viewing and not only for the way it skewers middle-class views surrounding gentrification. Watching white couple Austin and Violet, played by Blake Harrison and Joanna Horton, bemoan discrimination upon being told that a traditional West Indian funeral director won't be able to assist them, speaks to the white ignorance surrounding race, culture and identity that plagues British society.
It is no exaggeration to say that David Webber dazzles in this production and it feels at times as though Maddocks wrote A Place For We with him in mind. All of the play's best moments occur when he is on stage, first as Clarence (a man stuck in the past and hanging onto tradition) and then as his father Elmorn, a member of the Windrush generation. He brings comedy and solemnity to either character and whilst other dialogue remains tight, it has to be said the play simply does not hit the same without his presence.
This production has been a long time coming. A Place For We was shortlisted back in 2017 for the Bruntwood Prize and Alfred Fagon Award but rest assured, it has been worth the wait.