#Hashtag Lightie at Arcola Theatre
#Hashtag Lightie premiered in London earlier this year, and has now returned for a longer run at the Arcola Theatre. It is a masterful examination of how we deal with race in modern culture. The characters are vivid, and serious issues are dealt with deftly, playing out with both humour and heart-wrenching emotion. The piece begins lightly, showing the makeup vlogs of mixed-race teenager Ella (Adele James). She’s superficial, but charming, and her slogan of “hashtag lightie” slowly begins to take on a more sinister tone as we start to examine how she equates beauty with her own relatively light skin. When she introduces her siblings on her vlog, she is shocked at how negative the comments she receives start to become – particularly the ones about her two sisters, one of whom is in a relationship with a white man, the other with a black man. With this, the play’s tone shifts.
The atmosphere becomes gradually darker, capturing the lack of understanding both white and black people have of the experiences of mixed-race people. The siblings’ relationships are painted in painstaking detail that never feels forced: those of Melissa (Grace Cookey-Gam) and her white boyfriend (Jamie Richards) who “only dates black women”, Aimee (Sophia Leonie) and her fiancé (John Omole), who idolises her as a “caramel queen” while refusing to really accept her mixed-race identity, and Aaron (Devon Anderson) and his white-seeming daughter who he’s unable to pick up from school because they will not believe he is her father.
This piece manages the all too rare feat of discussing social media and internet culture on stage without ever seeming trite. The production is minimalist but effective, working well in the small studio of the Arcola Theatre. Video is also used seamlessly throughout, as Ella’s vlogs are projected onto the screen, as are the responses of her viewers. The acting is excellent, and it was clear in the post-show discussion that the cast feel strongly about the characters and narratives they are portraying
What is also remarkable is the relationship the play formed immediately with its audience. People laughed easily, engaged with the characters, and were held rapt at the moments of highest dramatic tension. This is a work that deserves to be seen widely. It takes on under-discussed topics and people, and spins out a drama that feels real and important, and above all it will make us re-assess all our own assumptions.
Photo: Arcola Theatre
#Hashtag Lightie is at Arcola Theatre from 14th until 30th November 2017. For further information or to book visit the Arcola Theatre website here.
Watch the trailer for #Hashtag Lightie here: