Welcome to The Community Centre, a place where you can relax and while away the time, or engage in “How to Charm Your Own Snakes” workshops. It is the lifeblood of the local Mancunian community, where elders can go to avoid paying their electric bills, and where people can skive off work. As the central meeting point of the community, it is a cultural melting pot, including Jamaicans from the Windrush generation and a white Rastafarian caretaker who wears fake dreadlocks and sings Bob Marley songs.
Written by stand-up comedienne Nicola Gardner, The Community Centre is a gentle comedy that runs at a nice, relaxed pace. In fact, it doesn’t feel like you are watching a play at all, so natural are the performances, and Gardner’s script. It genuinely feels like an afternoon spent at a community centre observing ordinary people engage in normal conversations, which happen to be incredibly funny. To achieve this level of naturalism in a piece of comedic theatre is worthy of praise, and shows how strong this ensemble group are.
Gardner also plays two show-stealing roles in The Community Centre. Patience, the receptionist/manager, is a flirtatious diva who is sassy, with a sultry swagger. Gardner’s stand-up experience shines through, as she has an exceptional rapport with the audience, telling amusing one-liners, and flirting with men. Apparently, they call her “the Black Marilyn Monroe”, which she later goes on to prove with a hilarious rendition of Happy Birthday Mr President.
Gardner’s other character is the equally promiscuous Sister Richards, a cougar who struggles with incontinence, and openly announces that her Tena Lady pad keeps slipping down her leg. Together with Deborah Colphon’s Sister Johnson, they crudely discuss sexual fantasies with Morgan Freeman, Trevor McDonald, and Denzel Washington.
Brother Leroy and Brother Myers are disgusted by their talk, preferring to play dominoes, card games, and discuss current affairs, from Trump to the Windrush scandal. These bring a more serious undertone to the piece, but never diminish the play’s charming humour. Alternatively, it raises the genuine concerns of the Windrush community, as they question how they can be deported when they have lived and worked in this country their entire lives. Having paid their taxes, why can’t they just be allowed to enjoy their retirement in peace?
It is only when I looked at the programme that I realised these four elderly characters are played by much younger actors. Their performances are entirely convincing and it feels like watching four senior citizens enjoying their retirement. At no point does it become apparent that these roles are being performed by actors.
Alongside the senior quartet are two skiving workers who sit reading Take A Break magazine and discuss their disastrous, yet incredibly funny, dating record. The pair are both unlucky in love, and their amusing anecdotes provide a pleasing balance to the play. As its focus switches between the two groups, a close relationship is formed, and a community is established between the characters and the audience.
The Community Centre is a multi-ethnic, easy-going comedy that is consistently funny, and enjoyable to watch. Closing with the cast singing Bob Marley’s One Love, this play masterfully evokes a traditional sense of community which is sadly uncommon in today’s society. As Robbie, the white Rastafarian caretaker says, “everyone is moved by love“.