Stratford show bringing 1950s racial tension to the stage

PUBLISHED: 12:00 23 June 2018

Karl Collins and Martina Laird in Shebeen Picture: Richard Hubert Smith

Karl Collins and Martina Laird in Shebeen Picture: Richard Hubert Smith

Richard Hubert Smith

Sixty years ago, Britain was a divided nation, with race riots and tension between communities.

Karl Collins and Martina Laird in Shebeen Picture: Richard Hubert SmithKarl Collins and Martina Laird in Shebeen Picture: Richard Hubert Smith

It’s that setting that frames Shebeen, which has just opened at Theatre Royal Stratford East.

It stars Karl Collins, best known for roles in The Bill and Hollyoaks, as George, who along with his wife Pearl hosts the titular party.

“Shebeen is actually an Irish word, meaning an illicit party,” he said.

“When immigrants first came over from the Caribbean they were barred, or not welcomed, in normal bars.

“They had to make their own entertainment.

“Someone would hold it in their home, and there would be drink and food.”

The run at Stratford East comes after a successful series of performances at the Nottingham Playhouse, where the show is set.

“I’ve never worked at either theatre before,” Karl said.

“I love doing stage, you get the immediate reaction from the audience, if they love it or hate it.”

Karl described the show as “a very funny, light hearted look at life in the 50s”.

Explaining why he was so keen to take on the lead role, he said: “It’s set in 1958 in Nottingham, just before the race riots which preceeded the Notting Hill race riots.

“I’m from Nottingham originally, though I’ve lived in London for 30 years.

“My parents came over from the Caribbean just after this, around 1962, 63, so a lot of the stories are ones I grew up with.

“It’s something that’s resonant today with the Windrush scandal.”

Karl is starring opposite former Casualty actress Martina Laird, who plays his wife Pearl.

“I’ve seen her on stage many times and wanted to work with her,” he said.

“We actually played boyfriend and girlfriend many years ago.

“I was in The Bill but before that I played a villain, and she played my girlfriend who I was harrassing.

“We spent most of the time shouting at each other through a letterbox!”

Shebeen runs at Theatre Royal Stratford East until Saturday, July 7.

Tickets are from £10 and available from or by calling the box office on 020 8534 0310.

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