The Fellowship review – ambitious drama overstuffed with issues

The Fellowship is a play of big issues as two fiftysomething siblings, Dawn and Marcia, grapple with their Black British identity and the complexities of unwavering sisterhood in 2019. There are references to racist murder, inherited trauma, Brexit and Windrush. But with so much ground to cover, such important themes are not given enough space to grow.

Written by Roy Williams – co-author of the punchy, state-of-the-nation play Death of England and its sequels – The Fellowship is at its best as a three-generational family drama that is testimony to the children of the Windrush generation. There are sophisticated flashes of confrontation between the sisters but, stretched longer than two and a half hours, the script is slow and bloated. Jokes are repeated – one about Amazon’s Alexa initially brings laughter but eventually fatigues. It takes a while before each scene moves from being a shouting match and settles to drive this big-life tale along.

The play’s route to Hampstead’s main stage has not been simple. The press night was pushed back when leading actor Lucy Vandi dropped out due to ill health. Cherrelle Skeete stepped in at the last minute and, script in hand, she is a force as Dawn, visibly saddled by her past.

The performances are what carry this confused production directed by Paulette Randall. Suzette Llewellyn deftly plays the part of “sellout” barrister Marcia, desperate to distance herself from her activist roots. Trevor Laird finds humour in Dawn’s slippery partner Tony even though he is an undeveloped character with little to work with.

The cold, cyclical set designed by Libby Watson is more scientific than your standard home interior. Randall has her actors wandering aimlessly around its dark, framed margins as they bicker and break down, the staging never allowing them to appear totally comfortable.

One empowered speech from Dawn, where she admits she secretly had her first orgasm to John Travolta, is a lightning moment that shows what The Fellowship could have been. It is a pity, as it had great promise.

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