The Yvonne Arnaud takes a welcome dip into new waters.

What a welcome change it is to see fresh, socially-aware drama come to the Yvonne Arnaud. Our local theatre needs support after the long closure of Covid, and it is brave of them to re-launch with offerings outside Guildford’s comfort zone. Next week sees more in the series, which are staged in the Mill Studio.

Last night’s offering – Our White Skoda Octavia – looks at the struggles of a Pakistani family living in Essex to maintain their ties, tempers and standard of living on their sparse earnings. The father is a taxi driver but the pressure of long hours and making ends meet puts pressure on the whole family.  Daringly, the second half of the play jumps to the next generation to see how their children pick up the baton and make their own choices for survival.

It is worth something to have an authentic insight into the lives of different cultures, even if it is to discover that those lives are very much like our own. The audience cringed on occasion to recognise white characters bungling their crude attempts to establish points of contact. (‘Where do you come from, mate?’ ‘Here’ ‘ No, I mean where do you really come from?’ ‘I really come from here.’)

The acting is committed and intense. Many lines are funny (the oldies got to laugh a lot), and the subject matter is urgent. The thoughtfully compact set was ingenious for containing on stage several different settings. The music was authentic and atmospheric, always referring us back to the heritage of longing, aspiration and hope from which the family is sprung. The Pakistani cultural setting was, in our memories, unique. What a pleasure it is to acknowledge that it appeared here, in Guildford.

My only downbeat comment is that the play was long and would have benefited from a disciplined edit.  But it was admirable of the Yvonne Arnaud to put it on, generous and life-affirming of the actors to come here to share this story. We in the Labour Party who have enjoyed the plays so far, hope this is just the beginning.  Well done, Yvonne Arnaud.

Next play:

FLINCH | Sat 6 Nov, 7:45pm  A darkly comic play about the struggle for intimacy. When Mark reacts unexpectedly in the face of a violent mugging, his girlfriend Jess is left with questions, leading to a thorny and unsettling discussion of gender politics that refuses to take sides.

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