Duty is both fabulously simple and incredibly clever, shining the light on complex issues with deep and sympathetic understanding yet offering no glib answers. We are introduced to Petal, the character who the others make or break themselves upon. We see her parents, newcomers to Britain who bring with them their own expectations of life, gender roles and duty. Growing up in Britain in the now, Petal does indeed have dual heritage of British ideals and how gender equality or rather inequality is shown in her own life. In a very small scene we see a microcosm of her relationship with her mother, and through that we can see how their relationship has been throughout their lives. We feel her frustration with her mother, yet we see her mother’s point of view too, and her vain plea of how much she gave up for Petal we can see was actually true from the earlier scenes. We see how let down Petal is by her father as well, the proud man who was a doctor where they came from, and here he is a cleaner the mother says as she gives birth alone in a strange hospital in a strange country with unsympathetic staff.
A captivating, challenging, and thought provoking piece of theatre
Petal’s place in the working world is also complex. She is so very well thought of by the community that she pours her heart into, far more than the three white men who vainly discuss how to appeal to a more multi ethnic community while ignoring the young black woman in their midst – a situation which would be bleakly funny if it wasn’t so profoundly true. Her relationship with the boyfriend who shares similar values to her father is juxtaposed with the fascinating hidden relationship she shares with one of those three white men, from a combination of curiosity and low self-esteem.
Playwright Bomafabia Wokoma who also acts in the piece has created multi layered characters who are uncompromising and unapologetic in their virtues and flaws. Her understanding of human motivations and seeing the light and dark in each person is astounding. Even the man in the Board room who you really want to detest, especially after one unspeakable line, you see his loneliness and desperation and feel empathy for him too. This is also greatly helped by a cast of universally strong actors and a natural, realistic acting style and dialogue. The occasional multi rolling is effortless and immediately clear. You believe each one of them, and sometimes, you forget they are acting and just see real life.
It may seem as though this would be a heavy piece but it has a beautiful lightness of touch, also occasionally bringing some dark humour in some appropriate moments. A captivating, challenging, and thought provoking piece of theatre: Duty deftly portrays the complexity of today’s world and all the history we bring to it, in a very personal and accessible way.