Defined as a play that depicts a ‘journey of delf-discovery’, Route follows the journey of an unnamed young black woman, born and bred in East London, as she struggles to reaffirm her identity within her new surroundings of the rural, white and middle-class backdrop of university. Using a small ensemble of only five young women, each actress takes turns in portraying the role of our central character, and each manages to bring a unique and idiosyncratic voice to her journey as she faces the typical rites of passage every young adult encounters as a student. Yet within each of these experiences she finds herself being in some way alienated by the racial assumptions or micro-aggressive behaviour from white, privileged class mates. Whether being told she “sounds different” to the harsh ghetto persona they had imagined or being rejected by a boy in a club because “I don’t do black girls”, the isolation she is made to feel by the preconceived notions of race the privileged students around her is palpable.
This theme of isolation is elegantly granted greater depth in the play’s comparison between our character’s journey alongside the story of her father and his struggle to find acceptance within 1960s Britain as a young Jamaican immigrant. Told with a refreshingly candid and often humorous voice, the father’s story explores his own journey of self-discovery, and what it means to identify as a black British person in a country which can never truly accept you as a part of it. The parallels between these two stories holds particular weight in light of recent revelations of the government’s failure to protect the status of Windrush generation immigrants, and the two interweaving stories depict the startling reality that despite the separation of 50 years, the hardships both father and daughter have to fight against are markedly similar.
The combination of spoken word and physical theatre within the piece, whilst an exciting addition to this important topic, is rather hit and miss throughout the play. It is noticeably effective in a scene where our character reflects on learning about violence against black people within her history class, and makes an exquisite appeal in spoken verse against the senseless violence against young, black men she sees across the world, whilst her fellow ensemble members slowly fall the floor in a ritualistic tableau of circular violence. However, the tenuous links between other uses of these theatrical elements means a number of otherwise significant scenes can fall flat. Whilst the piece of spoken word poetry as our lead sits in a waiting room is beautifully crafted, it seemingly appears in isolation to the rest of the piece, leaving its overall influence over the journey of the piece to be hindered.
Despite the occasional disappointing moment, this piece still acts an emotionally poignant portrait of a young black woman learning to accept the skin she is given, and embracing the “journey” that her skin represents. Whilst the depictions of racism in 1960s and modern Britain show we still have a long way to come, the piece ends on a message of hope and peace, as we see a community exploring their love for their culture through the Notting Hill Carnival. As the audience is encouraged to stand up and dance with the ensemble, all brightly dressed in festival costume, we are reminded that a collective compassion is essential to counter the barriers the characters we’ve watched grow have had to face.