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Review: Is Dat U Yh? (Brixton House)

Review by Sam Waite




I remember reading a few years ago (and I don't know if this is true or not) that when we remember past events, we remember them a touch less accurately each time – supposedly we remember the last time we remembered the event, rather than actually bring forth the memory. This makes storytelling centred around memory all the more fascinating, trying to understand what is a genuine recollection, and what is a rose-coloured re-invention. In dkfash’s Is Dat U Yh?, making its triumphant return to Brixton House, the focus is purely on the emotions memories can stir, accuracy be damned.


Drowning in the mundanity of adult life, childhood friends Tia, Debz, Tolu and Reena find themselves reunited and reliving their youthful heyday as the ‘Back of the Bus Queens’ – visual effects suggest a physical transportation, but the abstract nature of Is Dat U Yh? is among its greatest strengths. From childhood to the end of their teens, this outspoken group of girls take us along with them through their history as a collective, and as young black women growing up in London at the turn of the millennium.


Frankly, this is a challenging show to properly explain, and certainly not the easiest to review. Every element works perfectly, hard as it is to clearly outline just how this is so – dkfash’s script is fast-moving, ever-changing, and carries an authenticity that had the press night audience in rapture long before the cast took their bows. Also credited with both direction and movement, dkfash has her actors moving with such precision that the fact that objects being moved are being placed where needed for the next scene seems an afterthought, as if these quick rearrangements of set pieces are simply part of the characters’ physicalities.


This same fluidity translates into moments of dance and musicality, the girls performing as a rag-tag girl group and giving both rapped and sung vocalisations alongside pure Y2K choreography. Along with the snappy, sometimes breakneck pace of the back and forth between the quartet, the whole show feels like a brisk run down memory lane, with the audience merrily trailing behind and quickly accepting that they'll never quite keep up. While direct interaction with the audience is limited to certain moments, it's easy to feel caught up and truly involved in the group's adventures through their London hotspots.

The cast – Adeola Yemitan, Antonia Layiwola, Zakiyyah Dean, and dance captain Rachael Ridley – each give strong, articulate performances with their work to build and fully inhabit those roles abundantly clear. Individual stellar, the four are utterly magnificent as a collective, bouncing off of one another with a seemingly boundless energy, and using more emotionally driven moments to reinforce an idea of genuine sisterhood between this group of lifelong friends. Some great vocals and dancing are also delivered, along with some particularly hilarious over-singing from Ridley, and a hysterical moment of failed booty-shaking from Yemitan.


With XANA’s eclectic, music-heavy soundscape, and the implication of portals to and from the past with Jahmiko Marshall’s lighting design, Is Dat U Yh? is not only a bold, arresting piece of theatre, but a truly fascinating exploration of youth, connection, and how we confront these things once they are firmly behind us. Equal parts insurmountable joy, indescribable loss, and unbridled disdain, this is a community space in the guise of a play – reactions that might seem uncouth, even unthinkable, in a more traditional show, seemed welcome and in tune with what was happening on stage. dkfash’s work was so obviously connective, so richly felt by all, that the immediate standing ovation was a foregone conclusion minutes into the hour and change runtime.

A celebration of the past and a beacon of hope to the future, an elegy for what was and a plea to what may be. Is Dat U Yh? is the kind of bright, unflinching theatrical experience that is rarely seen, but all the more satisfying for its rarity. The show ran at Brixton House not even a year ago, in the very same venue, and it's easy to see why this return has been so quickly welcomed – inventive but strikingly familiar, intelligent but easy to connect with, deeply specific but wholly relatable, this is new work as it should be – bold, challenging, and above all, truly embraced.


Is Dat U Yh? plays at Brixton House until April 27th



Photos from the 2023 production



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