By the end of the weekend of unrest in the Lozells district of inner- city Birmingham in 2005 police had recorded 347 crimes including a death, five attempted murders and many attacks on Asian-owned businesses. Four years on, a sparky new play These Four Streets, commissioned by Birmingham Rep, reflects on events associated with what became branded the Lozells riots. The play looks beyond the allegation on pirate radio that a black hairdresser had been gang- raped by a group of Asian men to issues affecting the mixed-race residents striving to mend the fractured community on their own four streets in Lozells. It's acted out against a simple backdrop of an internet map of hairdressers in the West Midlands, a pattern of criss- crossing roads that is repeated on the floor.
The play, a fictionalised script based on meetings with dozens of local people, has been created by a committee of three Asian and three black women. However uneven the result – definitely more camel than horse – it benefits from their insight into local patois, attitudes and, most refreshingly, humour.
Another Behzti – Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti's controversial play depicting a rape in a Sikh temple and taken off after provoking damaging protests – it most certainly is not. Here are writers attempting to unite and mend a community.
In a sequence of piecemeal vignettes over thirty characters are portrayed, those taken by the four women being particularly rich. A radio operator (a droll Janice McKenzie) in Tabs Cabs finds herself caught up in the escalating violence while a surly butcher, possibly Eastern European, is both resentful and the cause of resentment. In another encounter the new Muslim owner of the African Queen beauty salon finds herself holed up with a truculent Jamaican kid who's out to get more than her eyebrows plucked.
Elexi Walker is an engaging 14-year-old "going on twenty" and Bharti Patel shows her versatility as both a cheeky youngster and an old woman chewing the fat with the superb Lorna Laidlaw. As she reaches out to a young hoodie, Laidlaw's monologue is worth the ticket price alone. Some scenes clunk as they weave their way around racism, immigration and sexism, but there's a welcome sense of work that has grown from the inside, as near "made in Lozells" as possible.
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