After reading Lyn Gardner’s essay in The Stage earlier this week, it feels like a reflective moment to see a community performance. ‘Theatre must stop imposing ideas on communities’, she writes, citing the creeping entitlement that blinkered creatives often display when working with non-theatrical groups. ‘If we want real diversity and we really want theatres to look and sound like their local communities that must mean working towards handing over real power’.
The Seven Ages of Patience at the Kiln Theatre exudes this real power. But a word on the reviewer’s role too: this is a play by the people of Brent for the people of Brent. As a visitor, I was grateful to be in the audience and hope that my responses reflect this, while also doing justice to the work’s quality and scope for critique.
Devised by Chinonyerem Odimba in conjunction with ‘A Friendly Society’ — a community project telling untold stories of social care and migration in Brent — The Seven Ages of Patience tells the story of the area through a wide range of responses to the death of a beloved local nurse, Patience. Beginning with a white coffin and a grieving son insisting on a quiet burial, the stage is soon packed with elderly friends, patients, cousins and former colleagues creating a frenetic, joyous energy. Each tell their chapter of Brent’s social history through lively anecdotes, while dramatic flashbacks let the younger cast members shine, especially the four or so women who depict Patience.
The play succeeds in moving through a range of social justice issues with tact and grace. Rather than an exhibition of constructed themes, they instead constitute a plotted geographical history covering immigration, racism, gentrification, austerity, sexism and generational tensions. At only eighty minutes long, it’s a lot to fit in, but the play’s bounce and motion is all down to the cast. As local residents, their emotions are felt more deeply and authentically. Theatrical innocence and lived experience lends freshness to lines about ‘lattes and estate agents’ popping up a little too frequently on Kilburn High Road, or the widespread loss felt after the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993.
Odimba’s writing is smart throughout, particularly the decision not to move with a strict chronology. A present-day frame narrative is always welcome in work like this, further furnishing the warmth of nostalgia while adding humour through a local radio broadcast which unifies the characters and onlookers in attention. The audience is gleeful, with most eyes constantly scanning the stage for familiar faces. The message is one of kindness, the importance of inclusion, understanding and pride in diversity. Although local to this small pocket of North West London, The Seven Ages of Patience feels like a whole nation searching for itself.
Main Image Credit: Mark Douet