Harlesden High Street

Jackdaw Theatre’s play exploring life on a London high street contains “real heart and well-judged performances”

Harlesden High Street
Harlesden High Street
© Ania Rewienska

Harlesden High Street focuses on three first- and second-generation Pakistani immigrants living in northwest London. Rehaan (Jaz Deol) and Karim (Rhik Samadder) run a small shop selling (or rather, it seems, largely not selling) such glamorous wares as fruit and toilet roll.

Karim’s mother Ammi (Sakuntala Ramanee) has failing sight and needs an operation, but the attempts of Karim and Rehaan to hook in customers by calling passers-by ‘beautiful’ are failing; they only make a handful of sales a day. Rehaan wants to marry Karim’s sister Firoza (never seen on stage), but it seems unlikely that she’d go for someone with such poor prospects.

Essentially this is a tale of immigrants trying to make a success of life in a new country. It includes reflections on what ‘home’ is, the difficulties of adjusting to a different culture, and the importance of what you inherit from your family.

The show is simply staged, using wooden crates to good effect to create walls, furniture and shop displays. A video screen displays projections of high streets, bus rides and plane journeys to provide some additional visual context.

The text is written in unrhymed verse, and is accompanied by a trio of musicians on guitar, sitar and percussion which helps with the rhythm and mood of the piece. It still feels like a series of slightly disjointed tableaux, however, and lacks a strong narrative thread.

The most coherent-feeling moments come during a sequence showing the loving relationship between Karim and Ammi, and at the end when a real sense of community is created thanks to a scene in which the shopkeepers learn to turn the ‘great’ British weather to their advantage.

This is a relatively short and simple show, but one with real heart and well-judged performances. It deals with immigration in a sensitive and gently humorous manner that is a pleasant antidote to the intolerance that is all-too-often present in today’s news.

Emma Watkins