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  • Miles Hedley

GDIF: THE ARCHITECT on Deptford-Woolwich bus

The artistic team behind The Architect insist this promenade production aboard a double-decker London bus is not about Stephen Lawrence but is a wider vision of hope for young people. And of course that’s true. But the spirit of the murdered teenager dominates every second of the piece and thereby creates a beguiling double narrative that is simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking.


Over the course of an hour or so, as our bus travels from Deptford to Woolwich, we are regaled with a series of beautifully observed vignettes revealing how the Windrush generation and their descendants became a vital part of Britain with dreams and ambitions of a hate-free future in an egalitarian society.


But even as the upbeat story of this integration is being told, the dark side of the same story is unfolding as the bus takes us through neighbourhoods where Stephen’s killers lived and along the road where he was fatally stabbed at a bus stop in 1993.


The play centres on two unnamed teenagers (Dalumuzi Moyo, Omar Austin) goofing around and imagining their futures in south-east London – in 1993. It also features Karl Collins as an ambitious, idealistic architect – Stephen’s hoped-for career. There is even a cameo by runners from the Cambridge Harriers, a club Stephen trained with regularly.


However, this second narrative is revealed only slowly thanks to the relentlessly optimistic mood maintained on the bus by its conductress/MC, wonderfully played by Llewella Gideon, and her various hop-on-hop-off passengers (Doreene Blackstock, Shayde Sinclair, Danielle Kassaraté, Daniel Ward). But as the realisation dawns, a sense of dread starts to grow, intensifying the nearer we get to the murder scene.


It’s been ages since I last felt so affected – overwhelmed even – by a piece of theatre and it’s a tribute to writers Bola Agbaje, Dexter Flanders, Vanessa Macauley, Mojisola Adebayo and Roy Williams and director Matthew Xia that they make it happen not by brazenly manipulating our emotions but by relying on that old jazz adage: It’s the notes you don’t play that count.


The Architect, a co-production between the Actors Touring Company and the Greenwich + Docklands International Festival in association with the Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation, ends with The Architect’s Dream, a vision of how London could be transformed by sustainable housing and surely a nod to what might have been had Stephen lived.


Cynics and climate-deniers will no doubt dismiss the vision as idealistic and impractical. But in an age of global warming, growing intolerance and economic woe, we surely need ideals more than ever.


The theme of this year’s GDIF is Acts of Hope. The Architect is the perfect summation of that theme – and for me is the most perfect piece of theatre the festival has ever presented.


Picture: David Levene







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