During the height of racial tension in Birmingham back in 1965, Smethwick was visited by human rights activist Malcom X. Inspired by this, Paul Magson has written a play, Marshall St, based on the true stories of the people living during this time.
The previous year, Conservative MP Peter Griffiths won the Smethwick seat from Labour with the slogan: “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour.” Paul Magson has captured the heart and soul of Smethwick through four different people whose lives intertwine.
We meet Bernice (Criscentia Spence), a lady who travelled over from Jamaica to make her home in Smethwick. Gladys (Julie Baker) a resident landlady, Harbhajan (Gurpreet Boparai) an Asian man who ventured to Birmingham for better opportunities and Ronnie (Jason Adam) a young lad growing up in the town.
During the time, some of the residents of Marshall St were urging the council to buy houses and make them available for white people only. It was a tough time for people and Magson delves into these stories in a touching way. Through a series of monologue that weave within one another, there’s a beautiful balance of humour and heart to bring these stories to life.
Jon Morris has cleverly directed the narrative to be simple, yet completely engaging. The way the characters move around the stage and interact with the audience creates a real connection. Their integration with the audience enhances the storytelling.
Gurpreet Boparai is fantastic in the role of Harbhajan. He brings real charisma and humour with his charming personality. Telling tales of his optimistic venture to England, he plays the comedic timing superbly. His sweet characterisation makes it even harder to swallow the racial hatred he faces in his life.
Criscentia Spence displays the sensitivity of of Bernice delicately. Spence plays the role with real personality as she delves in to what it was like to settle in a completely new country. Julie Baker captures the essence of a 60s Brummie woman in the role of Gladys. Baker gives an expressively animated performance.
Jason Adam’s character of Ronnie is really interesting. He is growing up and going to school in Smethwick, naturally taking on the opinions of the adults around him. But as he befriends a young black girl at school, his opinions begin to change. The way Adam transforms from that naievity to discovering the complexities of the racial tensions is flawlessly performed.
It is an eye-opening piece of theatre that shines a light on the history of Birmingham. The characters are well-crafted and the storytelling is compelling. Marshall Street is quietly powerful and packs a real punch.
Find out more about Marshall Street on their website.