Thursday 28th April 2022 at Metal culture, Chalkwell Hall.
Reviewer: Maygan Forbes
A delightful treat nestled away in the corner of an unsuspecting cultural hub, ‘Rice and Peas’ deserves recognition that spans a lifetime! When I first read the description I thought, surely not?! A play that celebrates Grenadian heritage and culture whilst serving a full four course meal that represents every facet of the countries pride and joy? Just the very idea alone is something worthy of praise. Mia Jerome’s ‘Rice and Peas’ sets the bar astronomically high for concept of immersive theatre and it will be an experience I will be pondering on for a while to come. With a menu designed by Executive Chef, Jon Bentham, (previously head chef for Gary Rhodes, and the man Tom Kerridge credits with teaching him how to cook) Rice & Peas allows audiences to share three delicious West Indian courses with this couple over the course of their life, and in doing so discover the heartache and courage it took so many to start a new life in Great Britain.
Set in 1948, the play centres around a Grenadian family at the start of their Windrush journey to join the UK. Figgy is about to embark on a what will become cemented in history and span several generations for a lifetime. His wife Edith has apprehensions as she the fear of the unknown and what awaits across the pond is a daunting thought however, her dreams of cups of tea and the Brontë sisters keep Edith full of hope for the future of her family. Figgy and Edith’s journey in the play is symbolic of a generation of Commonwealth citizens who came to live in Britain between 1948 and 1971.
Labelled “The Windrush Generation”, it refers to the ship MV Empire Windrush which brand workers from Grenada, Jamaica, and other islands in the Caribbean to help fill post-war UK labour shortages. Figgy and Edith have doe eyed dreams and are excited at the prospect of bringing to life the ‘Made in England’ illusion. The aim for Figgy was to earn enough money in England to take back home and buy land in Grenada. But life had other plans and as Figgy and Edith and they are faced with adversity after adversity whilst trying to acclimatise to an unwelcoming country.
As soon as you enter the theatre, you are greeted by a server and sat at your table. The idea is that the audience act as the customers of Fig & Oil, the restaurant Figgy and Edith open and operate with their children after settling in the UK. Whilst you are watching the story unfold you are also being waited on by their children. It takes immersive theatre to another dimension, and blends the show with real life to the point that you forget you’re watching a play. I was fortunate enough to receive a +1 for this show however they bailed on me, leaving me to experience this alone. I was paired with a complete stranger and before I knew it, we were exchanging life stories and swapping TV show suggestions during scene/meal changes.
There was a real community feel in the theatre, were strangers became friends and no one is left feeling alone. This wasn’t purely a coincidence, this is a show celebrating Grenadian heritage and culture in the UK, everyone is welcome. Figgy tells the audience that Fig & Oil’s door is open to all, and whilst the England streets were littered with signs cruelly exclaiming “No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish”, it’s a true testament to the Windrush generations temerity and strength to withstand horrific racism and maintain their welcoming and receptive, warm nature.
This play is incredibly important. In a time where the Windrush scandal serves as an example of the UK’s violent and repressive history, it is being swept under the carpet and hate and discrimination is still ever present. Rice and Peas highlights the racism presented to two different generations in the UK. Figgy and Edith’s children have now assumed a life full of prospect in the UK, one son has signed a contract to play football professionally with Dagenham and is being scouted for other teams. However the racism he faces in the team and whilst playing on the pitch keeps him disheartened and anxious about his future. My dad grew up in the ‘70’s in Battersea and told me that on the weekends, people would flock to market stalls before a match, to buy fruit with the sole purpose of throwing it at the black players on the football team. Unfortunately these events still occur in 2022, with premier league footballers coming out and talking about their own experiences, taking a stand against the racism.
The acting was phenomenal. At the end of the performance, the writer, director and producer Mia gave a speech where she let us know that the actors had only six days rehearsal. This prompted several exclaims of surprise, including my own! But it really is a credit to the strength of the script, the concept itself and the actors own talent that they were able to execute with such energy. Everybody deserves to see this play, theatre like this make me incredibly grateful and hopeful for the future of immersive theatre to come.
Rice and Peas is a Blouse & Skirt! Production. Its final performance was April 30th 2022 but you can keep up with the company here!