Partying on: J’Ouvert @Theatre503

The shadow of Grenfell looms large in J’Ouvert, It fills Theatre 503 with the colour and flavour of the Notting Hill carnival. It’s an epic and personal experience of three women during one day at the event. With its intricate storylines and sharp observations about life in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, it’s an impressive debut from writer Yasmin Joseph. Even with what appears to have been a difficult journey to bring it to the stage.

In the piece, three women play a range of characters. Two are best friends and locals who have been going to the carnival forever. Another girl has joined them for reasons that become clear later. As they spend the day trying to get a drink and a dance. And some overpriced food, the characters that make up the event come to the fore. What becomes clear is a slice of life of the need to party, the need to be angry and the need to get on with their lives, without harassment or violence looming large.

There are the old timers who have seen it all before, the young boys looking for trouble, the men trying to slut shame the women and the reporters looking for cliches. Everything gets a look in here.

Unfortunately, during the rehearsal process, problems led to last-minute cast changes. With the actor playing the central character remaining on-book, it felt more like a staged reading and difficult to appreciate it fully.

The name of the play comes from the meaning of daybreak when Caribbean festivals (such as the Notting Hill Carnival) are typically held.

But hopefully, there is a long future for this piece. The intimate space of Theatre 503 makes this epic story feel like the party is just getting started. It deserves a much bigger, reimagined production somewhere soon to match the ambition and scale of the story being told.

Directed by Rebekah Murrel, J’Ouvert is at Theatre 503 until 22 June.

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