NO BLACKS, NO DOGS, NO POLES – Pentameters Theatre, London.

The quaint Pentameters Theatre of Hampstead is an ideal setting for director Jesse Cooper’s charming and intimate production of Tom O Brien’s No Blacks, No Dogs, No Poles. The play weaves a rich tapestry of cultural perspectives on the Irish diaspora, racism and immigration using the central storyline of the Kennedy family and their social dilemmas as a conduit. The use of space vividly reflects the claustrophobia of both the small minded views frequently depicted within the play as well as the closeness of the complicated relationships which play out on stage.

Having said this, despite the underlying tensions seen both in the tense relationships and strong socio-political opinions; there is great warmth in all of the actor’s performances. The combination of a very funny script and some larger than life performances allow the audience to feel like we have been invited into this Irish household free of airs and graces. The result is a lively and homely political dialogue full of both cliche and insight depending on which character is speaking. A script laden with Irish in jokes, music and family banter is thoroughly entertaining. Meanwhile, clever direction allows the audience to see through the comedic defence mechanisms key characters husband and wife Con and Marion Kennedy employ throughout to disguise their true feelings of despondency in an unhappy marriage.

The theme of home is juxtaposed throughout the plot as despite the deep rooted hatred Con (played by Matthew Ward) expresses about the English oppression of the Irish, his wife Marion ultimately feels that England is her true home. Similarly, the return of son Michael to this household where he no longer feels at home having lived abroad reveals the small minded opinions of his father. As Con shows prejudice towards Michael’s Australian black wife (beautifully played by Rachel Summers), the irony in his previous arguments about the English prejudices towards the Irish is exposed. Sam Turrell gives a brilliant performance as Michael; adopting with ease the measured diplomatic liberalism his character needed to show throughout to contrast the seemingly old fashioned views of his family and their friends. His apparent disgust and embarrassment at his Father’s prejudice and Jimmy’s aggression as well as his genuine attempts to protect his wife from it, seemingly represent a more modern take on ethnicity and immigration.

As well as the catalysts of Michael’s return, and the revealing of an ex-marital affair on the part of Marion, we then have the plot turn full circle as Con’s bisexuality is exposed by Jimmy. The fact that Con finally seeks emotional refuge in his homosexual relationship with a local black construction worker is the ironic icing on the cake so to speak! All in all, the play emphasizes some very relevant disputes about immigration today in a carefully crafted display of love and hate at their most extreme.

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Reviewed 07/06/14

By Emily Mae Winters

20th May- 7th June 2014
Pentameters Theatre, London, NW3.


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