- Lynette Linton’s eloquent play, #HashtagLightie raises and discusses serious issues about identity. How are mixed-race persons perceived, by themselves and others? Does it matter? And, if it does, are the perceptions right or are they based on eroticism or disdain or something else?
#HashtagLightie is Lynette Linton’s eloquent play discussing identity – of being mixed race in Britain. Confusion is often a topic within identity focused drama, and Linton has, in this case, depicted the differences between generations within one Caribbean-Irish family.
Four siblings with dates of birth spreading across three decades claim their identity, whilst the world around them chooses the box in which they fit. Melissa (Grace Cookey-Gam) is the eldest, followed by the twins, Aaron (Devon Anderson) & Aimee (Sophia Leonie), and their youngest sibling, the YouTube sensation Ella (Adele James).
#HashtagLightie begins with the youngest. Broadcasting make-up tips, she advises her followers on how to look great, translating how to perfect the lighter skin. Her predilection for social media begins with a narcissistic approach, grabbing the attention of thousands, and her race-based profile portrays an attitude of endearment, vulnerability and arrogance. Is Ella to blame or is she a microcosm of this generation’s obsession with likes and followers? As all the above grow in numbers, Ella’s vanity drags her siblings into the limelight.
Melissa is in a long-term relationship with a publisher (Jamie Richards) who dates only black women; in contrast, the middle sister, Aimee, is engaged, after a whirlwind romance of six months, to a fiancée (John Amole) proud of his caramel queen. Brother, Aaron, has a daughter with a white woman and is angered by how his daughter’s race is categorised.
Collectively, changing society imposed opinions depict how mixed-race has changed significantly – from being shunned to erotised.
Ella’s happy outlook soon turns to catastrophe, once the world’s attention to her family displays the opposite of what she set out to achieve. Her celebrity status, comment by comment, crumbles, leading to something, sitting behind a computer screen, she had never imagined.
Linton’s work is crucial if we are to bridge gaps between people with whom we share a nation, a city, and our neighbourhoods by changing how we perceive those within our professional and personal lives. Director Rikki Beadle-Blair uses Linton’s shocking moments to engage with the audience from the moment Ella is first onstage, to the end where the family are all together.
The sheer amalgamation of culture in London has encouraged attitudes towards a positive change yet how do individuals respond to the identities that fit neither here or there. And what happens to individuals who travel outside London and are surprised to experience something so far from acceptable, horrors during which bodies are used as targets?
Linton has written well rounded characters and, collectively, they all endure a personal struggle.
Devon Anderson’s portrayal of a father being questioned when picking up his daughter from school is a key moment, including gender in the identity crisis.
As Rikki Beadle-Blair discussed during the opening night post-show session, society perceives black men to be masculine and aggressive, whilst white men are perceived as soft and feminine.
In a world where Leona Lewis is mixed race, yet Mark Duggon black, where does Aaron fit in this constructed view of the world? All he wants to do is to pick up his daughter from school.
The generational gap between the siblings is the most striking part of this seventy-minute production. As Melissa pushes a story chronicling her personal struggle, her youngest sister Ella uses her light skin to compete in a world obsessed with beauty – a world that now has people acclaiming “I wish I was mixed race”, a statement that hearkens back to the history of slavery, but for very different reasons.
As two men respond to Ella’s hastag with “you were the ones that were caught”, the context of the line projects a sinister and chilling emotion during an otherwise comical scene.
Linton’s a graduate of Stonecrab’s Young Director’s programme and, aged 27, she has begun her career with a promising outlook. This is exactly what London’s art scene requires and she has co-produced her own work so that it will raise questions amongst the next generation – no matter how you choose to identify yourself.
This is not only a strong piece of writing, collectively the cast of #HashtagLightie excel under Linton and Beadle-Blair’s collaboration. John Russell Gordon’s dramaturgy has enabled this play to flourish at the Arcola, perfectly suited for this work.
I hope to see #HashtagLightie with a promising future.