My White Best Friend (and Other Letters Left Unsaid) at the Bunker
Is it a play, a social experiment, or a party for like-minded individuals? Somewhere in between lies My White Best Friend and Other Letters Left Unsaid, an exciting blend of classic theatre and music festivals created by playwright Rachel De-Lahay. Through a curated collection of letters written by up-and-coming London-based writers and other artists, women and men of colour address some of the societal imbalances and micro-aggressions existing in the dynamic between them and their white best friends.
Upon entering the Bunker Theatre, the immediate vibe was one of a bar or nightclub packed with intellectual 20- and 30-somethings – a far cry from the ordinary theatre pre-drinks. DJ DLK was set up in the corner blasting mixtures of Drum & Bass and classic House tracks, hyping up the crowd every so often and providing a countdown to each performance. There was no main stage, but rather a series of podiums around the room with one larger stage against the back wall. The play was standing only, and the audience found out why once the performance began.
A young white woman (Inès de Clercq) walked up to the long stage, and picked up a letter resting on the ground. Upon opening it, she stated that before the performance, the writer of the letter, who we discover is De-Lahay herself, requested a reshuffling of the spectators. This put people of colour and women closer to the front, and able-bodied men moving towards the back in an immediate shift of the dynamic of the audience. She then read out the story of how close the two had become in their university years from De-Lahay’s perspective. Ultimately, De-Lahay reveals that she was often left hurt by her white best friend’s inability to recognise the importance of standing up against acts of subtle racism. It was fascinating to see a white woman read out her black friend’s words and reveal her faults on stage to an audience.
After de Clercq’s performance and a short music-fuelled break, Ben Bailey Smith took to the stage and performed an excellent spoken word rendition of the next letter from a white East Londoner (Stef) to his black best friend, Jammz. In the first half, Stef complains that the real reason why the two haven’t spoken in years is because he managed to get into university and fast-track out of their low-income life whilst Jammz didn’t, and that it wasn’t necessarily his fault. Jammz’s clever rebuttal stated that even though Stef imitated black culture, he could never really see through “black eyes” or else he would realise that the two received the same grades, and that Stef automatically had the upper hand due to his race.
Last up was a quick-fire short letter reading session by Zainab Hasan, another truly talented actress who adapted her accent to the letter she was reading. Commentary on the government, all forms of prejudice, Brexit and so much more made for an electrifying final touch to the evening.
Overall, the performances were insightful, artistic and drew real engagement from the audience, which could be heard through laughter and cries of agreement.
My White Best Friend (and Other Letters Left Unsaid) is at the Bunker from 18th until 23rd March 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.