Desmond’s 30th anniversary celebration at Theatre Peckham

I had the privilege of attending the sold out 30th-anniversary performance of “Desmond’s” at Theatre Peckham.

Performed by Theatre Peckham’s youth ensemble, the production was based on the pivotal and groundbreaking sitcom set in a Peckham barbershop created by Trix Worrell and produced by award-winning playwright Paulette Randall . Featuring a predominantly black Guyanese cast as the Ambrose family, Desmond’s was originally broadcast on Channel 4 in 1989. Ending after 6 series in 1994, Desmond’s has been upheld as an important moment for British Black comedy television which was non-monolithic in its writing.

The stage production’s structure was broken into three parts. What struck me was the maturity with which the young cast handled subjects, ranging from interracial dating to the eschewing and understanding of the stereotypes that lead our young men to a life of crime. They were also exceptionally adept at getting the house laughing which, in itself, is no easy feat as comedy is, as the legendary writer of the tv show Trix Worrell put it himself, ‘about rhythm‘. They sat right in the pocket of that beat.

In part two, we were blessed with a performed reading of the pilot episode of Desmond’s from an ensemble of established and rising stars including Cyril Nri, Martina Laird, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Sope Dirisu, and Malachi Kirby. To describe how aptly and perfectly they hit the note with their performances, I’ll use the words of the original “Gloria Ambrose“, Kimberly Walker, who described watching it like “having an out of body experience” as it felt like the original cast was performing in front of her/their eyes.
Suffice to say, it received a standing ovation in a standing room only space. 

The other star that needs to be highlighted is the writing, and how timeless, almost prophetic, Worrell’s pen has proved to be. Watching the pilot reenactment, it was impossible to not notice that he highlighted topics still relevant today such as Windrush and the government’s handling of it, demonstrated through Desmond’s determination to build a house back in Guyana by hook or crook because, as he said, “we never know the day they’ll decide they don’t want us in this country and kick us out“.

Another stand out topic which resonated touched on women’s emancipation from gender-stereotypical roles in the household which Martina Laird, as Shirley Ambrose, beautifully portrayed in her fight to take French lessons and live a life that at least signalled at her potential with or without Desmond. Laird emphatically delivered a monologue fearlessly delivered at Desmond and at us in the audience. You should have heard how the women on the audience voiced their assonance.

The night ended with part three, a Q&A with Worrell, Paulette Randall, and original cast members Kimberly Walker, Matilda Thorpe, and Lisa Geoghan. It was an enlightening and inspiring time and I for one felt a fire under my bum to go and do some writing and continue creating content after listening to them speak. It was also beautiful to hear about the perfect harmony on that set between not just the cast but the crew and the live audience they taped in front of. It was true symbiosis and something we all felt keenly the lack of in today’s television scope.

My last congratulations must go to the director. Roy Alexander Weise, helmed the ship on a stellar cast to create something so resonant and pitch perfect, where none of the hooks where left unheard or unfelt. My massive congratulations to everyone involved. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have re-runs to watch. 

Watch episodes of Desmond’s via All 4


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