A sharply observed slice of social drama that examines racism and class
Glass Roots is the second play by writer and philosopher Alexander Matthews to be staged as part of the playwright’s debut season at the Tristan Bates Theatre, a hidden gem of a studio in Covent Garden.
While Matthews’ previous play at the Tristan Bates, Screaming Secrets, explored ruptured families and dark generational dishonesty, Glass Roots steps outside the front door and takes a look at wider societal fractures.
Glass Roots puts racism under the microscope, particularly in its relation to class. Thila (Natalie Perera) and her husband Sadjit (Kal Sabir) run an Indian restaurant in an unnamed – and largely unloved – part of south London. Sadjit is a reluctant waiter, writing poetry in-between serving chicken tikka masalas and beef madras. Thila, his hardworking wife, is exasperated by his Byronic dreams as she juggles the more prosaic side of life. Their marriage is fractured, held back by unrealised dreams.
One of their regular customers is Celia (Victoria Broom) who has tonight brought along Rupert (Ben Warwick) on, what I took to be a first date – the kind of first date you dine out on for years to come – and not with the person you shared it with. They argue over their differing approaches to what Rupert (not the subtlest of names for a posho barrister ) describes as the ‘servant’ before veering into the subject of race.
But before they can start throwing poppadoms at each other, the evening is interrupted by two racist thugs, Diesel (Mitchell Fisher) and Spaceman (Sam Rix) who sneer and threaten Celia and Rupert until they flee (coatless) leaving Sajit and Thila to fight off racist abuse on their own.
In the middle of this storm Sajit and Thila are concerned only with the fate of their marriage. As they face the barrage of racial abuse, their focus isn’t on the spitting, bullying white boys in front of them, but on their future. When the men leave, it’s not the ordeal the couple discuss, but how they can make each other happy. It’s Thila who stands up to them fuelled, it appeared by a fury that felt provoked by boredom.
Glass Roots isn’t a theatrical game-changer. It never really answers the questions it asks, but it’s a taut, likeable play with largely sharp performances (the odd bout of ‘hand acting’ aside). Sabir and Perera give particularly fine, controlled performances as the central couple who give the production a heart.