Not Quite West End Review: State Red
I have to admit, I only bought a ticket to State Red because Samuel Anderson (a recent cast member of Doctor Who) was in the show. I really had no idea what I was going into when I decided to head to Hampstead Theatre, a non-West End playhouse, but I thought I'd give it a try. And wow, am I glad I did. Playwright Atiha Sen Gupta has sculpted a beautiful, family-driven script, with a plot that one could compare to the recent affairs of Ferguson, Missouri.
A simple stage, set as the interior of a home, in a thrust format, this tiny black box theatre (which only seats about 60 people), was the perfect intimate space for this production. The play opens with Luke (played brilliantly by Samuel Anderson) arriving home after a year of exile. After much confusion as to why he left, it's soon revealed that he was a police officer who shot a young black man, and feels pain, regret and anger towards the racist system in place by the Metropolitan Police. His friend Matthew, who was there during the shooting, as well as his family try to convince him to let it go, as he's already been cleared of charges for the killing, but Luke wants to come clean with what really happened that day and call out the unfair judging of this now dead black man.
Sound a bit familiar? With the current Ferguson conflict, this mirrors the current claims about racial profiling and why Mike Brown was shot and killed that day three months ago. This play adds a twist to the story. Luke, the police officer who shot the young black male, is black himself. Well, half-black. A big part of the show's conflict is that Luke knows he's mixed, as he has a white father and black mother, but feels that the reason he was told to shoot that day was because the man was black. In fact, in the play, Luke says right before he shot, the man called him a "coconut," which is a racial slur for someone who is black and acts white. Understandably, Luke is conflicted throughout the entire show, trying to understand how he can make it right.
I have not yet seen a show I can relate to so much. Often shows about racial issues focus entirely on the race of the individual, and their struggle as being a person of color. What was intriguing about this show, was that the playwright focused on the fact that the main character was mixed race and confused about his place, which is something I experience every day. And it didn't need some dramatic, crazy plot to pull it off. It showed it in the most simple way of having it happen within the context of a conversation with his friend and family. More of these stories need to be told in the theatre, because it's time to have our voices heard.
Besides Samuel Anderson portraying his character beautifully, Maxine Finch, who played Joyce, was so touching and realistic as the mother to Luke. There's a satisfying scene between just Luke and Joyce, where she explains to him how his guilt could ruin the family, but did it in the kindest way possible. I spoke with Maxine after the play and told her how much I enjoyed her one-on-one scene with Samuel, and she thanked me and said that it was the director's intent to make it seem like the truest form of communication between a mother and son. We also talked a lot about the mixed race plot and she told me about her son being mixed as well, and we were both glad that we could see stories like this. Her acting was fantastic.
After the show, I got my traditional photo and autograph with Samuel Anderson, who was so very nice to oblige me in my silly Whovian obsession. We even spoke a bit about the mixed race stuff, and I told him that "oreo" is the American equivalent to "coconut," and told me that, "At least it's a kind of sweet cookie." I hope to attend more productions at the Hampstead Theatre in the future, and possibly even have my own play produced there someday.