#Hashtag Lightie is Lynette Linton’s third play, following STEP, focused on the London-bubble, and Chicken Palace, a play about gentrification. Her new play focuses on the experience of being mixed-race, something that is startlingly underrepresented in theatre.
#Hashtag Lightie follows the Millers, a group of four sisters who have a Caribbean mother and had an Irish father. They span three generations; with the eldest being middle aged, two twins who are both 25, and Ella who is a teenager. This therefore makes the play a representation not of the universal ‘mixed-race experience’, but rather it serves to highlight how intensely personal this experience is to each individual, even if they come from the same family.
Ella, the youngest, decides to set up a YouTube channel called #Lightie in which she gives make-up advice, but also subtly (and painfully naïvely) advocates the benefits of being mixed-race. Her family is brought into it when she makes a video introducing them all. This receives a strong backlash of comments surrounding her sisters’ respective relationship choices of either a white man (David) or a black man (Bradley).
They are accused of ‘choosing sides’ – with suggestions that in having a relationship with a man of a certain race, they are negating half of their ethnicity and choosing preference over the other. This highlights some of the beliefs some people have of mixed-race individuals, suggesting they are required to box and define themselves in a simple, neat category and ignores the idea that they have an individual identity separate from these dichotomies.
This exposes the problem of labelling altogether. Why should the Millers have to ‘choose’ a side, making them seem like divided individuals, characterised by warring opposites? Ella’s ‘fans’ seem to be uncomfortable with the fact that her eldest sister has chosen her ‘white’ side, whilst her younger sister chooses her ‘black’ side. What #Hashtag Lightie shows is that these sides don’t exist, these characters are ‘fully themselves’, not half of anyone else.
Another interesting comparison is between the characters of David and Bradley. David’s shocking comments toward his girlfriend try to be sensitive, but highlight his fundamental misunderstanding of her race, trying to see what ‘label’ she wants most when it is painfully obvious that none of these encompass her. Bradley on the other hand comes at it from a different standing point. He calls his girlfriend ‘caramel babe’, fetishising her skin colour. He ‘loves’ the fact she has an ‘exotic’ Irish background, whilst he is also very pleased she has chosen her ‘black’ side. What Bradley and Davis elucidate is that both of the things they are saying are highly inappropriate, both as bad as each other and as hurtful. Simultaneously, Linton still ensures they are likeable characters, just with deep misunderstanding and ignorance.
The tensions that build throughout the play as Ella’s videos get more internet backlash mirroring the relationships becoming more strained, show the painful process of coming to terms with and recognising these issues. Whilst at the beginning everyone seems blissfully unaware, once the truth comes to surface cracks are shown and crunch time comes whether they can be worked through or whether this is irreconcilable.
One of the merits of this play is also the fact it is often extremely funny, whilst also being intensely uncomfortable at other times. The scenes are often broken up by energy-filled YouTube videos, singing, rapping and filling the stage and the audience. The family arguments are also hilariously relatable and painfully naturalistic. It is a merit to Linton and all the actors that a serious, anger-provoking topic is approached in such a multi-faceted way.
Linton purports her goal in writing this play was not to answer any questions, but rather to spark a debate to put this topic out there and expose people to the issues that can surround being mixed-race such as shadeism and dichotomising labels. #Hashtag Lightie is evocative, empowering, hilarious and heart-wrenching all at the same time.
#Hashtag Lightie is playing at the Arcola until 2nd December. For more information and tickets, see www.arcolatheatre.com/event/hashtag-lightie-2.