Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s new play starts off as an entertaining and positive snapshot of multicultural Britain. School sweethearts Gary and Nicky are throwing a birthday party at their council flat. He’s black, she’s white – and they have their hopes pinned on Gary getting a promotion at work that will give them and their kids a better life.
The party guests include British Pakistani couple Mo and Anjum, Gary’s sister Karen, Gary’s workmate Mark (whose birthday it is) and Gary’s manager Victoria.
The big laughs and joyful atmosphere of the play’s opening scene quickly dissipate as Victoria gets drunk and comes out with a number of remarks that leave the atmosphere chillier than the Prosecco in the fridge.
What follows is a sharply observed examination of race, privilege, class and education in contemporary Britain. Victoria’s behaviour sets in motion a chain of events that open up devastating fault lines between Nicky, Gary and their friends.
At a brisk 95 minutes it sometimes feels like watching a soap opera, but director Michael Buffong ensures every scene has the power to make the audience squirm or cheer out loud.
Richie Campbell and Claire-Louise Cordwell are outstanding as the central couple Gary and Nicky. Petra Letang’s no-nonsense Karen and Asif Khan’s Mo provide some comic relief, and there’s strong support too from Manjinder Virk as the ambitious Anjum, Thomas Coombes as Mark and Amy Morgan as Victoria.
There’s not much Christmas cheer here, but Bhatti’s emotional drama delivers a punch that you’ll feel for a long time after you’ve left the theatre.
A Kind of People is at the Royal Court until 18 January