Co-Directors Taoi Lawson and Susie McKenna locate NW Trilogy’s inception in an earlier project the Kiln undertook. Mapping Brent involved local youth outreach and participation in three different areas of the borough with an agenda to make work for and by the community that was relevant to them. Similarly, NW Trilogy is a trilogy of three short plays by three different writers, each play zooming in on a socio-cultural moment within the area’s history while tying the personal to the political.
What might be rendered as three disparate stories are instead smartly interlinked by Lawson and McKenna through thematic underpinnings and the creation of an ensemble (an enactment of community) using dual casting. They conclude their Director’s Note by saying, ‘It is an honour to tell these local stories’, and this care and consideration is evident throughout. Lawson and McKenna weave a cohesive tapestry, stitching together the plays with movement sequences performed by the entire ensemble while voices of the nation’s prime ministers play through the tannoy. These brief segments, with movement by Yarit Dor, compel audiences to question what is considered political history and what is often left out in its telling. Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey’s design is more minimalist, focusing on clear indicators of the locale for each play: a red telephone box, or a traffic light, while outlines of high-density housing surround the stage.
Each play features music to enrich the storytelling. Moira Buffini’s gentle and tender Dance Floor kicks off the trilogy in a 1960s Irish dancehall, and explores the Irish diaspora in ‘County Kilburn’ with song. New to London and desperate to secure a job, wide-eyed Aoife Gallagher (Claire Keenan) has a trial shift as a cleaner under the watchful eyes of Katie Reardon (Aoife McMahon). Missing home and mopping alone, Keenan’s Aoife sings to herself a stunningly effortless rendition of ‘The Shores of Lough Bran’. Emmet Byrne also impresses as the smooth-talking navvy Sean Boyce who begins the show by drunkenly singing Dominic Behan’s ‘Building Up and Tearing England Down’ while passersby bemoan his presence on the street. While it feels the most lean of the three plays, Dance Floor is full of heart (if not a touch of sentimentality), and doesn’t shy away from critically exploring racism within the Irish community, both in London and in the homeland.
Roy Williams’s Life of Riley has the most touching music performances of the evening. Against the backdrop of the reggae scene in Willesden and the closure of Trojan Records, Paulette (Harmony Rose Bremner) meets her estranged father, passionate musician and reggae-lover Riley (Chris Tummings). Tummings is excellent as the hardened, fiercely free Riley, and accompanies Bremner on guitar in a quite moving father-and-daughter performance of ‘The Harder They Come’. Williams approaches the politics of the time through a deeply personal encounter, and really succeeds in creating a streamlined, fastidious and self-contained piece that still resonates. It finishes with Bremner and Tummings in total harmony with a joyful version of ‘Young, Gifted and Black’.
Like Williams, Suhayla El-Bushra grounds her play Waking/Walking in a specific historical event. Set in the 1970s, it’s an explosive story of Anjali Lakani, played by the brilliant Natasha Jayetileke, and her family during the lead up to the Grunwick dispute in Dollis Hill. Having recently moved to London from Uganda, following the expulsion of the country’s Asian minority by Idi Amin, Anjali works tirelessly at the factory and in her small one-bedroom flat, while her husband Deepak (Ronny Jhutti) hopes for a promotion. Meanwhile, their teenage daughter Meera (Anoushka Chadha) wants to go out and meet boys with her best friend, Niamh O’Connell (Keenan). While Jhutti’s Deepak feels occasionally overly theatrical, Rina Fatania steals the show as Susheela Parekh as she hilariously barges into the Lakani flat to invite Anjali to sign their petition. El-Bushra creates a rich, compelling family drama that’s well-balanced with humour and drama that then erupts outwards, onto the streets. If anything, Waking/Walking feels like it could be longer than its current runtime; the characters and their lives simmer beyond the confines of this play’s time restrictions.
All together, NW Trilogy is a joyful and critical examination of the Kiln’s local community and its diverse history. Crucially, it offers a thoughtful and heartfelt answer to the question ‘How should theatres engage with their local community’ by redressing the frequent erasure of local history, particularly immigrant stories, from this country’s mainstream narratives.
NW Trilogy is on at Kiln Theatre till 9th October. More info here.