Yesterday a flight left the UK bound for Jamaica. On board were seventeen ‘foreign nationals’ who were being deported, yet many of these people had grown up in the UK and built their lives here. This incident and the Windrush scandal have once again brought into question the relationship between black, mixed-race and British identity.
God’s Property, Corpus’s week 4 main show, tackles these issues, which makes it a poignant piece of theatre. The production depicts racial tensions in a South London neighbourhood following the release from prison of Chima (Amin Elhassan) and reunion with his brother, Onochie (Ditie Eradiri). The narrative reveals the prejudice of the white neighbours towards these people of colour, and the difficulties of growing up mixed-race in this environment.
‘You know you’re black,’ Chima says bluntly. ‘I’m mixed, made in England,’ Onochie replies, and this is where the play’s tension lies. The two brothers tackle their identity from opposite sides, one wishes to blend in so much that he rejects his own heritage, ignoring any mention of race; the other is so keenly aware of violent prejudice against Britain’s black population that he risks becoming another aggressor, angry at Ono for having a white girlfriend. Where do two brothers, raised in England, of Nigerian heritage, stand? How do they identify: black? white? neither?
From the first minute the audience is thrown straight into the action, knives brandished, and threats hurled in a blunt depiction of family conflict. Elhassan and Eradiri play off each other effortlessly, building up a complex image of the relationship between the two estranged brothers and the problems created by their opposing views on race. However, at times the two grew slightly awkward, their actions with props appearing a bit clunky, while there was also a tendency to rush, cutting off the last word of the other actor.
One of the most impressive aspects of this performance was its sense of scale. The cast of only four gave the impression there were twenty more waiting outside. This made the narrative a snapshot of a much larger issue, one example of racist tensions played out across the country. This was helped by the inclusion of a window into the set: it easily allowed the cast to see the neighbours, react to threats and keep the audience tense with the fear that someone might walk through the door and ruin everything.
Lighting was used effectively, dimming and flickering to reflect the destabilising narrative. Darkness was even used to cut the audience off from the scene, forcing them to wait and see what would be revealed. Yet its most impressive use was Elhassan’s shocking monologue about prison violence: a solitary spotlight illuminated him as he conjured an increasingly uncomfortable image. Again, there were clumsy moments: the use of contemporary audio clips played over a silent tableau was a clever idea, but the newsreels that were meant to stand out as context were lost among the general confusion of the audio-visual montage.
God’s Property, although awkward at times, is a powerful exploration of what it means to be mixed-race in a white environment. The narrative unfurls before you, layer by layer, to reveal further questions, conflicts, discomforts and tensions, with a twist at the end that adds another layer of perspective. This hard-hitting depiction of race, family and identity is a poignant reminder of the prejudices of society that feels very necessary in today’s world.