This second production in the Tristan Bates Theatre is gripping and uncomfortable to watch – but doesn’t really tell the audience anything new about racism or bullying that hasn’t already been told before. 

GLASS ROOTS by Alexander Matthews. Photo by Rory Lindsay (86)

There is certainly plenty of abuse and accusations thrown around in Evan Keele’s engaging and intense production that leaves the audience uncomfortable but it also exposes the flaws in the writing – which tries too hard to convince that it has something new to say to be fully effective.

Taking place at an Indian restaurant over the course of an evening, Thila and Sadjit go through an appalling experience at the hands of two racist youths who throw all kinds of language among other things at the couple. Filled with anger and resentment, it is a play that is quite confrontational and reveals the flaws of all of the characters.

Described as a show which explores “what happens when you are bullied and are powerless to fight back? Can you survive with your psychology intact or is the damage permanent?” it definitely reveals the many different layers to the characters and what they are capable of – but never feels sufficiently deep enough to give the audience full understanding of why they are the way they are.  For example, it never explains why Diesel and Spaceman just barge their way in to the restaurant to hurl abuse – what has led them both to both resent those of other cultures in ‘their’ country?

But it also never really fundamentally answers the two questions stated above in enough depth psychologically and finishing the show on a bit of cliffhanger, leaving the audience wondering what the future holds for all of the characters.

However, Evan Keele’s production does bring together some powerful performances, led by Natalie Perera as Thila whose strength and spirit as she retaliates against the thugs is mesmerising to watch and leads to some of the most powerful moments in the production. In contrast, Kal Sabir as Sadjit feels slightly more one-dimensional and just lacks enough impact – which although works nicely with the character’s meekness means it can seem a bit lifeless in places.

But it is Sam Rix and Mitchell Fisher as the racist youths who are the most convincing with the swagger and nastiness of the characters coming through that makes for compelling if uncomfortable viewing particularly when the abuse threatens to turn into violence. However, it is also interesting when it becomes clear that Thila and Sadjit begin to get through to them and the audiences can see a slight hint of remorse on their faces – particularly when Thila asks what they have contributed to the country they love so much adding a nice dynamic.

Overall, it is not a play that really fully answers the questions that it wants to answer and ends up feeling as though it is not telling audiences anything new about class or racism that they probably didn’t know or guess before watching this production. But Evan Keele’s production draws out some brilliant performances and cranks up the tension beautifully to be thoroughly engaging throughout.

Glass Roots continues to play at the Tristan Bates Theatre until the 24th March. For more information visit: https://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/whats-on/glass-roots

Rating: ❤❤❤

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