4 stars ****
Assembly George Square Studios (Venue 17)
SET IN THE TOILETS of a downmarket nightclub in Woolwich, in the immediate aftermath of the violent murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, Atiha Sen Gupta’s new play has become one of the quiet successes of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, shortlisted for the Amnesty International Freedom Of Expression Award, and much admired for boldly highlighting two key issues of our time – both the shocking workplace exploitation often experienced by illegal migrants, and the threat of racial violence that they experience from day to day.
The play’s two characters are Sophie and Abiodun, a young couple who are both from Nigeria, but who have met and fallen in love since they arrived in Britain; they are essentially working as unpaid attendants in the ladies’ and gents’ toilets of the nightclub, dependent for their income on tips, and on their ability to sell “extras” like condoms, chewing-gum, and squirts of designer perfume. Sophie loves the work, and sees herself as a late-night beauty therapist and counsellor to the club’s female customers; Abiodun, who is more politically aware, absolutely detests it, particulary when their boss demands than he sing like some caricature of a black entertainer, to encourage the customers to buy his wares.
In the end, the play rushes towards its tragic ending at an almost dizztying pace, after 45 minutes of what seems more like pointed social comedy; it perhaps needs more than a one-hour slot to develop its narrative fully. It benefits, though, from two fine performances, with Bunmi Mojekwu as Sophie embodying a terrific, warm life-force of young female energy; and Joe Shire brilliantly portraying not only Abiodun and his boss, but also the racist thug who, as the play reaches its shocking climax, decides to vent his rage on the only black man within reach, and to end Sophie and Abiodun’s chance of happiness, once and for all.