Tag Archives: Michael Buffong

“A Kind of People” at the Royal Court

Set around a group of former school friends, this stimulating new play has a tender romance at its core. Intelligently written by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti and confidently directed by Michael Buffong, the piece is a slice-of-life polemic of considerable dramatic power.

A long-devoted couple, Gary and Nicky, are working-class heroes the like of which are still too seldom seen on stage. Their struggles highlight issues around race and class in contemporary urban Britain. The toll taken by prejudice has a profound personal impact on the lovers and the questions raised are important.

Amy Morgan in "A Kind of People" at the Royal Court
Amy Morgan

You might argue that Gary’s objectionable white boss, Victoria, whom Bhatti uses as her starting point for looking at racism, is too much of a straw figure. Not because people don’t hold such views – or that Amy Morgan is at all lacking in the role – it’s just that most people hide their prejudice better. But, following scenes that ignite the audience against Victoria, there’s the suggestion that, when accused of racism, the character uses her sex as a defence: a bold move by Bhatti that makes the atmosphere in the theatre electric. 

Manjinder Virk in "A Kind of People" at the Royal Court
Manjinder Virk

It’s clear how smart – and provocative – this writing is. A second incident of prejudice comes from a Muslim mouth. Focusing on class, taking in the metropolitan obsession about schools, it is Anjum, a likeable Muslim mother, who uses that loaded phrase “people like you” against her white friend Nicky. The moment is made all the more shocking by the fact that this is a character, with a performance expertly crafted by Manjinder Virk, who has made us laugh and whom we admire.

Petra Letang in "A Kind of People" at the Royal Court
Petra Letang

Although each of the wonderfully observed characters we meet provides a take on race or class, Bhatti’s skill makes sure none of them feels like a device from a playwright. There is considerable nuance in A Kind of People, and it reflects complex lives and problems. There are strong performances too from Thomas Coombes, Asif Kahn and especially Petra Letang, whose character Karen injects a fantastic no-nonsense humour. But the play belongs to its central roles, which are developed superbly. Gary has a troubled emotional journey, becoming a man “drowning in anger”, plotted by Richie Campbell with impressive understatement. Claire-Louise Cordwell’s depiction of Nicky follows a different trajectory – she is a rock that crumbles with frightening suddenness in a performance that does justice to the blunt force contained within this sophisticated play.

Until 18 January 2020


Photos by Manuel Harlan

“Moon on a Rainbow Shawl” at the National Theatre

The National Theatre’s revival of Errol John’s 1957 play, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, is only the fourth time the work has been seen in London. Michael Buffong’s production is, therefore, an opportunity not to be missed: this is a good old-fashioned play with a cracking plot and an authentic voice that ensures it still sounds fresh.

A group of Trinidadian neighbours, each with their own dreams and dramas, struggle to make the most of their lives. Their humble stories have a universal resonance and the characters are wonderfully drawn. Moon on a Rainbow Shawl has its brutal moments, but is always deeply humane, and finds the humour in its protagonists’ harsh conditions.

None of the characters is a saint but each has some heroic spark. Ephraim, a trolley bus driver desperate to better himself, and Sophia, a struggling matriarch devoted to her bright young daughter, are remarkable roles and Danny Sapani and Martina Laird give fantastic performances. Ephraim’s rage when confronted is magnificent as is Sophia’s collapse when events escalate and she succumbs to exhausted despair.

It’s impossible not to note the magnificent Jenny Jules who plays Sophia’s arch-foe Mavis – their battles are legendary, their squabbling, as Ephraim points out, comes from living like “hogs”. Beneath its exotic location, this is a kitchen sink drama but the politics never detract from the emotions on stage.

The action is plentiful and Buffong’s production admirably physical. Unfortunately, Soutra Gilmour’s set feels restrictive, wasting rather than exploiting The Cottesloe auditorium’s wonderful intimacy. And the set causes problems with sight lines too – don’t try to scrimp on restricted view tickets for this one. Initially impressive, the production would have worked better in a larger space. Staging Moon on a Rainbow Shawl elsewhere would have given more people the chance to see the work – make sure you don’t miss out.

Until 9 June 2012


Photo by Jonathan Kennan

Written 19 March 2012 for The London Magazine