REVIEW: The Queen of Chapeltown

Elexi Walker and the Community Ensemble in Queen of Chapeltown. Photography by Anthony Robling.jpg

Every year I find myself surprised that so many people, not just people but actual residents of Leeds don’t know anything about the Leeds West Indian Carnival in Potternewton Park. With its launch back in 1967 the Carnival celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, with over 2,000 people in the parade through the local area, with dancing & celebrating being the focus for them this results in a short route taking several hours to complete – but it’s certainly a sight worth seeing, and the whole Carnival event is an experience to submerge yourself in with 10’s of thousands in attendance throughout the day.

So I attended the Queen of Chapeltown play at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, a performance produced there to mark the 50th anniversary, expecting to learn about the history of that very first Carnival event, about a community coming together for a colourful party in the park, music and dancing, food (of course) and a faint smell of something interesting in the air.

I wasn’t wrong with these assumptions, but it was so much more besides. The play provided a fascinating insight into the migrants moving into that area when open travel was introduced with the promise of something better in this country, the offer of developing a new life in the UK. The struggle that this new community faced, the barriers of racism and exclusion, unable to integrate and unable to afford to travel back to the West Indies.

But faced with this challenge the community came together (not without some problems from those that didn’t agree with the plans to celebrate their own culture) and started planning for the very first West Indian Carnival in 1967.

There was also learning to be taken away about the meaning of Carnival in addition to this, with the Carnival King & Queen being a reflection back on the empowerment of their cultures back when they were leaders, the Kings’ & Queens of the World.

It was a great feel good production showcasing the history of the Carnival, and I’m happy to have learnt so much from attending The Queen of Chapeltown.


Rob Wilson