Home Girl- Derby Theatre

n 2015  Derby theatre  staged “ Solace of the Road” the world premiere of Siobhan Dowd’s novel of loss and homecoming. “Home Girl” reprises an exploration of the Care system in visceral, essential style.

It is a new stage adaptation of Alex Wheatle’s  eponymous novel  and a collaboration between  Alex Wheatle MBE, Nathan Powell , Sarah Kolawole,  Anisa  Archer and a Derby Theatre creative team. The main cast, Lisa Allen, Andrea Davy, Martha Godber, Duane Hannibal, April Nerisssa Hudson, Helena Rimmer are unusually strong, augmented by an enthusiastic supporting ensemble.  Co directors Sarah Brigham and Bryn Holding have done a superb job to harness all of this energy to impressive effect. A “future creatives” young team have undertaken the  backstage  roles under experienced tutelage. Emma White’s set design, a versatile two storey interior is well lit by Sam Evans. Nicole Chang’s costume designs are fortuitously contemporary casual for a young cast used to wearing contemporary casual.

“You need to learn boundaries, rules are rules” is a maxim in any foster home.  Whether you are in Care, as young protagonist Naomi is ,or are a Prime Minister, adhering to it is just as difficult. The play explores, identity, belonging , love and what home is and means. Naomi’s circumstances  trace a familiar path within the system. She experiences personal loss then finds herself bounced from one person to another at a time when she desperately needs grounding and to be able to fit in, to belong, somewhere

Wheatle lived in a childrens’ home in Croydon. The production team have worked with children in the Derby  Care community to deliver a play with a powerful stamp of authenticity right across it.

Martha Godber is wonderful as Naomi, the counterpoint with foster parents Duane Hannibal  (Tony)and Andrea Davy ( Colleen) skilfully portrayed, embodying the precept that it is who you are, not what you are, that matters. Davy and Hannibal are terrific, Godber visibly grows in confidence opposite this formidably supportive duo.

The subject matter is weighty. Naomis’ mother committed suicide and her father was an alcoholic her placement as a white girl with a black family initially looks doomed, viewed  with  a mixture of  suspicion and scepticism . Yet despite her chaotic damaged history, with her  associated suspicion of those supposed to look after her, the narrative zips along  briskly underpinned by quickfire  dialogue and laced with humour to lighten a frequently heart-breaking story in which the human spirit can prosper in the most testing of circumstances. It is a story of struggle which is universal in its emotions. Underneath it all Naomi is an ordinary girl who likes horror films, drinking Coke, coffee with four sugras ,dancing and hanging out with her friends in the pupil referral unit and wants to belong in a world that seems to have abandoned her.

The play is delivered in two acts, the first of sixty minutes, the second of half that. The first culminates in an ebullient song and dance routine hosted by Tony at Naomi’s birthday party. It is superbly realised out of nowhere with a full primary cast and ensemble dance routine featuring the Disco classic “Car Wash”  thanks to movement directors Lucy James and Rukus. Its joyous effervescence brings the house down, credit to sound designer Thomas Massey.

 The second half seems to try to fit an awful lot into a brief space suffering marginally as a result It draws a parallel  between the estrangement from society of Tony’s parent’s Windrush generation and the alienation of Naomi’s Care home generation, both desperate to fit in, to belong , and to be accepted. It concludes with an “all you need is love” coda which Paul McCartney would be proud of.

This production was originally to be performed last year before being shelved due to Covid and its appearance  is a delight, well worth waiting for, and a credit to both the directing team and the young people who give their all. it finishes on Saturday 9th July

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