by Rachel De-lahay
The Westbridge was first professionally performed at the Bussey Building, Peckham Rye as part of the Theatre Local season, in November 2011. The play later transferred to the Royal Court Theatre in London. Both productions were directed by Clint Dyer and performed by Ryan Calais Cameron (Andre), Chetna Pandya (Soriya), Jo Martin (Audrey), Ray Panthaki (Ibi), Paul Bhattacharjee (Saghir), Fraser Ayres (Marcus), Daisy Lewis (Georgina), Shavani Seth (Sara), Samuel Folay (Boy) and Adlyn Ross (Old Lady).
The Westbridge by Rachel De-lahay (formerly SW11) and Sucker Punch by Roy Williams were joint winners of the Alfred Fagon Award for Best New Play of the Year in 2010. This was followed by a rehearsed staged reading of both plays, directed by Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway at the Cottesloe Auditorium at the Royal National Theatre.
Rachel De-lahay’s debut play The Westbridge is a fiercely provocative exploration of the racial tensions between the Black and Asian communities in Britain. Set on the Westbridge council estate in Battersea, South London, both communities overlook their inherited prejudiced attitudes to live harmoniously, developing strong friendships and romantic relationships. But in common with most estates, it does not take long for rumours to spread from one apartment to the next. So when a young black boy is accused of raping a fourteen-year-old Asian girl, the news quickly becomes hot local gossip, triggering deep-rooted prejudices, dividing the community and resulting in an uncontrollable explosive street riot.
At the heart of this story is a young interracial couple, Pakistani Soriya and African Caribbean Marcus, who are both mixed race. They have recently moved in together and while they adjust to living under the same roof with Soriya’s best friend and housemate George, the recent events threaten to push their relationship even further to the limit.
As the play develops, we discover that Marcus’s childhood friend, sixteen-year-old Andre is the alleged culprit. Marcus is convinced that Andre is innocent but like Andre’s mother, who kicks him out of the house after hearing the allegations, Soriya is not so sure.
A conversation with an elderly Indian woman, who suggests that Asian girls should be for Asian men only, claiming that integration creates more confusion, leaves Soriya questioning her own relationship with Marcus.
With the growing pressure and scrutiny from family members and the community, their relationship is at breaking point, the protest has begun, and teenager Andre has nowhere to hide. But when Marcus spots Andre kissing a young Asian girl in a private garage on the Westbridge estate, the truth is unravelled. Suddenly, the spotlight is back on Soriya and Marcus – but is there too much water under the bridge for them to reconcile?
The rape allegation is spreading fast in households on the Westbridge estate and on Blackberry messenger. A distressed and exhausted Soriya, a twenty-year-old mixed race white-Pakistani girl, has taken refuge at her father’s house away from her boyfriend Marcus, to escape the community’s gaze and relentless criticism about their interracial relationship. The words from an elderly Indian woman whom she helped with her shopping bags has left Soriya doubting the success of interracial relationships, including her own. Marcus has heard from George that Soriya is upset and arrives at the house to find Soriya standing outside smoking.
Soriya Why are we? What makes us so special? Everything we have in common is in line with our age. We like the same music, the same films, but that’s it. We’ve grown up in completely different cultures, different worlds and I just worry they don’t mesh together all too good.
Our parents are respecting our choices. I’m sure if they could make the decision for us they wouldn’t wish this.
I’m not like you, OK? I’m not cool with who I am! I grew up my whole life being so grateful I was raised with my dad. People stare at me when they can’t place where I’m from. They know I’m not white but after that they get stuck. When I’m with my dad they understand. We’re Asian. I have an identity. And I love it. I love belonging to a large family that bickers over the dinner table. I love getting dressed up to go to our many relatives’ weddings. I love Dad forcing us to watch crap soaps on ARY when we have dinner round his despite all the protests to just put EastEnders on.
I’m scared you’ll change that.
No I’m upset ’cause I’ve just realised I don’t think mixing races works. […] I know it’s a horrid thing to say, but it doesn’t mean I can stop thinking it.
I’m gonna have an arranged marriage. […] Not right away but it’s what I want. I want to have Pakistani children for a Pakistani husband. I don’t want my children to be as confused as I am.
This excerpt from The Westbridge by Rachel De-lahay, is taken from Audition Speeches for Black, South Asian and Middle Eastern Actors: Monologues for Women, edited by Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway. It is available now at 10% off RRP.