Set during Notting Hill carnival, this play takes us on a journey where we watch friendships mould, emotions heighten, opinions raised, and disrespect highlighted as we witness three young women battle through the crowd and their own life struggles.
This play not only made me laugh but allowed me to reflect on the true meaning of carnival.
For as long as I could remember I have been going to carnival. Not going was never an option. Reppin’ my flag from head to toe, getting numbers and eating sugar cane, I looked forward to going every year. But as I got older everyone started to pull away from going. With the news highlighting the number of stabbings and violence occurring each year and failing to calculate the number of smiles, local profits and benefits it makes on the community, it’s no wonder everyone would rather stay home or head to an after party instead.
The problem is every year the crowds become more thick, aggravated, and less black. The sound systems replaces Calypso and Soca for dub set and house. Shuffling instead of woking. Curry goat gets stuffed in a wrap. Boys dressed in puffer jackets sweat heavily whilst they rush through the crowd causing everyone to panic all because they want to rush someone whilst Becky sells her green, yellow and red jello shots in front of her 1.2 million flat. Carnival has definitely changed.
J’Ouvert showcases these changes beautifully. We get to see both young and old perspectives as the two leading actresses embody different characters
Three female friends are doing mass at Notting Hill carnival, yet each has their own reasons for being there. The first is Nadine (Sharla Smith), she is determined to win Miss Carnival. She is sick of not seeing a darker complexion grace the covers of the annual carnival magazine and is convinced she should win. She has been practising her routines, polished all her gems and is ready to prove to everyone she should be queen. The only problem she has is that she worries too much about what others think, her family judge her for wearing skimpy costumes, boys take advantage of her and she can hear her ancestor’s voices. Riddled with jealousy and insecurities she is struggling to love herself.
The second is Jade (Sapphire Joy), she wants to make a change in her community. She’s from west London and is proud to be a part of Notting Hill Carnival. Now she’s been raised by the blocks, witnessed racial tension, watched her brother go to jail and she lost friends in Grenfell. The system has made her tough and she is sick of being pushed in a corner. Her downfall is her temper, ready to fight by all means necessary. The only problem is she doesn’t seem to pick her fights wisely.
A joy to watch
The last is Nisha (Annice Boparai), a middle class South Asian girl. Now this is her first time at carnival and she sees it as a festival as she hunts for a sound system rather than be with the band. She tries to fit in by using words that she has no clue about, wears a flag that has no resemblance to her own and wants to make her community a better place. She too lives in Notting hill but was raised in the suburbs and avoided walking through the blocks.
She believes her silent voice can make a change but it gets drowned out by those in her own community. She has no clue what carnival means but in this crowd she is a majority whilst her Caribbean friends are the minority. She feels free to roam the streets solo but just like her identity she loses her path and ends up getting lost and left in a fluster.
J’Ouvert to me represents history. It originated from Trinidad and other Caribbean islands, the French slave owners would host parties in the night mocking their garden slaves. They would dress in costumes that they felt imitated slaves and would dance through the night. When slavery was abolished freed slaves decided to mock their oppressors by having their own party and imitate what they did.
This play not only made me laugh but allowed me to reflect on the true meaning of carnival. It allowed the audience to see the abuse women receive now but also what black women went through as slaves. Black women are highly sexualised and face serious abuse. It makes me sick that men think that wearing a costume means they have an invitation to touch or disrespect a woman.
The script written beautifully incorporated poetry as we listened to the characters tell different stories and embody different people. I loved that the actors could allow us to believe them as they changed age, race and gender through their body language and voice.
The play is still a little rough around the edges and needs some tweaks but it was a joy to watch and prompted me to sign up for mas band this year.
Directed by Rebekah Murrell.