The Bush Theatre’s new strand, 2036, opens with a monologue, Pawn, which takes its name from the most downtrodden piece on the chessboard. The speaker, Jordan, is an amiable dimwit of mixed Trinidadian and South African heritage whose mother explains his background to him like a condescending anthropologist: ‘Trinidad and South Africa are countries with cultures too rich for most people to understand.’ Jordan describes his life in London which consists exclusively of battling oppression. He buys fried chicken from Yusef, a Turkish food-seller, and he learns a greeting in Turkish that Yusef recognises. So Yusef starts to slip him extra portions as a perk. A white teenager hears of this practice and orders Yusef to suspend the freebies to Jordan. And Yusef complies instantly. ‘I don’t know if Yusef ever made eye contact with me again after that,’ mopes Jordan.
The elements of this yarn seem bogus. Yusef doesn’t hand out free chicken wings because he likes Jordan’s friendliness but because he wants to reward a loyal customer. The detail about the white kid interfering with a street trader’s business sounds fictional. And why would Yusef obey the troublesome little oaf anyway? This depressing tale portrays inner London as a hate-crammed ghetto full of pea-brained white bullies, bemused Trinidadians and scared Turks who cave in to boorish thugs. A local theatre should support its neighbourhood, not smear it.
Jordan also relates an episode of police brutality. One of his friends was caught smoking weed on a midsummer’s afternoon and the cops asked him to empty his pockets and remove his trainers. This left him barefoot on the warm Tarmac. ‘He had to hop from foot to foot to stop his feet from burning,’ says Jordan. ‘That day,’ he adds solemnly, ‘cast a shadow.’