Oh wow! That seems like a good place to start when trying to write up about The Seven Ages of Patience at the Kiln, a community play produced by the Creative Learning department’s A Friendly Society project. The project aims to bring the community of Brent into their local theatre, offering them a platform to share their stories. With 80 volunteer performers (aged 11-77!), the show is the celebratory conclusion of this glorious project.
A community perhaps is the coming together of people with a shared common interest or experience. Despite all living in the same geographical area, there are noticeable differences in the communities within Brent, age playing a major part in this – a tension existing in the borough between its senior citizens and its youth. In Chinonyerem Odimba’s story of Patience, through whose eyes we experience eight decades of life, she becomes a pivotal core through which the whole community finds themselves connected with, and consequently with each other.
We start at her funeral, our attention drawn to the coffin at the centre of the stage, as friends and family begin to gather to celebrate her life. A young gang of seeming troublemakers turn up and, in an unexpected twist for the elders, support the celebration of Patience’s life by hacking into a local radio station, the channel becoming a mix of songs and stories to honour her existence. There is utter joy at the multi-generational collaboration.
Community theatre is about claiming spaces that belong to you. At the show’s opening, four figures appear on the balcony, swaying from side to side and singing. A young Patience (who is played by four members of the company at different ages of her life) comes to the front of the stage, takes her whole audience in, and from this moment on the space is hers.
Katie Posner’s production is filled with dance and music; elders wave their hands in the air, storm through the aisles of the stalls, and dance like nobody’s watching. They embrace each spoken line of the text, with great pride and care, and they are loving every second of it. Some gorgeous physical work sees chairs flying, floating, falling through the air. The flashbacks are signposted with the year, which appears at the end of hospital beds, on coffee shop blackboards or in large metallic balloons. And the whole company are warmly lit with Zoe Spurr’s magnificent lighting design, that gently transports us from one scene to the next. So much care has gone into this from the whole creative team, for a company, a community, who are clearly much loved by this space.
There’s talk of changing times in a changing community: buildings going up and down, another coffee shop opening each week, gentrification sweeping through the streets. Youth centres are disappearing – where can young people just joke and play nowadays? This is the heart-breaking reality of a society which forces its youth to grow up too quickly. Of a council that doesn’t have the funding for community spaces. The Kiln takes matters into its own hands, and does so with a deep admiration and respect for the land that its built on.
At a time of political turmoil, of increased prejudice, the line “our community of 149 languages” hits deep, highlighting the poignancy of these splitting times and the desperate need for individuals to hold back their differences and come together in the revolution of human kindness.
“It could be a riot, it could be a carnival” is heard early on in the show. Celebration and subtle protest come together with kindness in this heartfelt, joyfully uplifting coming together of community.
The Seven Ages of Patience is played the Kiln Theatre until 28 September. For more information, visit the Kiln Theatre website.