Written by Caroline David
"Roll up, roll up, the Olympic circus is coming to town," begins this timely play based on real events, written by Caroline David and directed by Sita Ramamurthy. The circus analogy is used to great effect throughout the next 80 minutes.
Kirsty is the wistful young "Gypsy" traveller almost marooned between two worlds, the past and the present, settled or traveller, living on a site that is due to be "redeveloped" for the London 2012 Olympics.
Her world sits easily next to a housing estate on the much admired Clays Lane cooperative, filled with its multiracial characters all facing the same future. Her father, Billy "Going Nowhere" Bagshaw, intends to fight to maintain a traditional way of living for the next generation. "Even if we stand still, we are still moving," he exclaims, while it seems he mounts a single-handed campaign against the local authority, the London Development Agency (LDA) and the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA). Unfortunately he doesn't quite become the vanguard of resistance that all the characters seem to need to gain some control over their destinies.
As the story unfolds, local councillors are portrayed sharply as clowns jumping through hoops while selling out their constituents and proclaiming, "Let the consultation begin." This is neatly derided by Ned, one of the travellers, as a "consultation about a consultation". Hilariously, the LDA pops up as a conjuror making things happen as if by magic and the chair of the local authority as literally juggling the needs of the community, the council and the LDA. All must be accommodated! Unfortunately, the inevitability of it all hangs heavy like the big top, and Kirsty seems to only find peace when perched high on a trapeze, above it all.
The play could be seen simply as the fight for survival of a particular ethnic group and the individual characters that it produces. But it also exposes the Olympic Games and its world pageantry. Behind the amazing feats of human endurance played out on an international stage and the development of a (usually) ignored area, the games create a glossy veneer over the destruction of communities from Barcelona to Seoul, London to Beijing; the forgotten thousands that feel the brunt of its excesses long before the show rolls into town. Probably no more acutely will it be felt than by the marginalised communities like the travellers of Clays Lane.
At the time of this review the play was due to start a run at the Edinburgh Festival and new scenes were being added or reworked, so hopefully it will return to the Theatre Royal, Stratford East which commissioned the play and sits just next to the site in question. You can expect the characters and the messages of hope, despair and resistance to be finely tuned like any top athlete.