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Winsome Pinnock’s powerful play about drug trafficking (premiered at The Royal Court Upstairs in 1996) hasn’t dated at all. Its issues are still alarmingly pertinent and, of course, it’s good to see an all female play, featuring lots of actors of colour, with meaty parts for eight women, several of whom do some neat doubling.

Bridie (Trudi Dane) is running an international drug trafficking business. She’s glamorous, beautifully dressed and charismatically convincing so, of course, young women fall into her hands whether they’re fed up in Jamaica, lost in London or anywhere else. Dane brings an interesting combination of cheerful ruthlessness and, at base, vulnerability to the role. I had, however, difficulty hearing some of her lines at the beginning.

There is some intelligent acting in this production – skilfully exploited by director, Lande Belo. Tyan Jones stands out as the ebullient Lou, full of joie de vivre and carefully delivered Jamaican accent. But she wants more and a trip to London might just provide it although her sister Lyla (Oyinka Yusuff – good) takes a bit of persuading.

I also liked Vanessa Tedi Wilson’s Allie, the young shop assistant who has run away from her home in the West Midlands (judging by her accent) because, we eventually learn, she feels let down by her mother and the latter’s abusive boyfriend. She has a little money and no street wisdom. The rather predictable scene in which she is mugged/drugged and robbed in the park put me in mind of the cat and the fox in Pinocchio. Tedi Wilson seems wooden in her opening scenes (first night nerves?) but eventually brings real depth to the role as she begins to work for Bridie and then, when she has to, finds ways of working though the inevitable consequences.

This play made me think about a lot of things which are outside my everyday experience. There are some very smooth, predatory operators out there ready to take on the vulnerable and delude them into feeling secure and cared for – the Fagin type. And it’s even more chilling, somehow when it’s women exploiting women. Moreover, there are practical issues: I had never stopped to think how desperately uncomfortable it must be to carry a packet inside your body. “You just need more lubricant” purrs Trudi Gane’s character at one point. Ughh. Never let it me said that theatre doesn’t educate you.

The Long Song

The Long Song

Suhayla El-Bushra’s  take on Andrea Levy’s (final) 2010 novel is an arresting account of slavery immediately before and after its abolition in Jamaica. It’s also a celebration of story telling and oral history in which so many narratives are laid one upon another that in the end we have to make up our own mind about truth and what we mean or understand by it.

A youngish black man, Thomas Kinsman (Syrus Lowe) has prospered and bought an estate in Jamaica – perhaps in mid-Nineteenth Century. He finds an elderly black woman named Miss July (Llewella Gideon). He has reason to believe she is the slave mother from whom he was separated in infancy. Eventually, with courtesy and respect (and a lot of food!), he persuades her to tell her story and her bent, dignified feisty figure dominates the stage from them on as she remembers her past.

Enslaved black workers emerge from sugar cane upstage (designer Frankie Bradshaw) amidst atmospheric drum led music and you can feel the heat. Each person is characterised and of course each of them is ready to rebel when the time comes. It’s multifaceted as they, too remember, often recalling things quite different from Miss July’s account. Tara Tijani is strong as the younger Miss July, whose mistress even tries to take her name and insists on calling her “Marguerite” and I enjoyed Cecilia Appiah’s hoity-toity Miss Clara.

Scenes with the white overseer and the owning family are deeply shocking. There’s a fair bit of the sort of colonial language which would have been common currency at the time including the word which is probably now the most offensively emotive in the English speaking world but perhaps the line which stood out for me came from Olive Poulet as Caroline Mortimer: “Don’t kill him. He hasn’t finished my garden”. On press night the audience chuckled and then you could almost hear a collective appalled gasp as they had second thoughts.

It’s a sensitive and very timely contribution in the age of Black Lives Matter. You simply listen, believe and feel horrified shame as you marvel at the warm theatricality of the piece.

There is, however, an audibility issue. Hard as the cast have worked on their diaspora accents with voice coaches the end result is arguably over rich for UK audiences. I missed, for example, about half of what Llewlla Gideon said, powerful as she is in this role. And the thrust stage lay out at Chichester Festival Theatre means that sometimes characters are a long way from some of the audience and facing away from them. However fine the play you can’t respond adequately if you can’t hear much of what’s said – and, for the record, I don’t have a hearing problem.

  • : admin
  • : 07/10/2021
God of Carnage

God of Carnage

Michel and Véronique Vallon have invited Annette and Alain Reille to their home in an apparent attempt at reconciliation. The Reilles’ son Bruno has hit their son Ferdinand with a stick, breaking two of his teeth in the process. Should the boys settle the affair by meeting? If so, where? And will Ferdinand apologise willingly or should he be forced to? You can imagine the tensions emerging.

Actually, you can’t. I’ve not yet seen a summary of this play (premiered in 2007) which really does it justice. When you realize it’s by the author of the long-running ‘Art’, you might expect just witty posturing about modern culture and relationships. But this is really frenetic Noël Coward, drenched in expletives as strong as the rum which inebriates all the characters by the end. To add to the fun, Alain keeps having to interrupt the conversation in order to answer his mobile: as a lawyer, he is trying to defend a pharmaceutical company producing Antril, a drug now considered to have detrimental side effects. And the house phone goes on ringing as well: it’s Alain’s mother who’s in a bad way and whose doctor just happens to have prescribed her… Antril. Meanwhile, perhaps because of nerves or the clafoutis, Annette has vomited all over Véronique’s coffee-table books, ruining her Kokoschka catalogue.

This production sparkles at every level. Following the ‘lack of realism’ demanded by the original text, Bron Blake’s set is an eccentric living room with distorted windows, a slanting mantelpiece, and two pseudo-Expressionist paintings. Director Charles Douglas delicately paces the conversation with awkward, initial pauses speeding up to beautifully timed exchanges, full of ironic bile (the literal version of which is also puked up by Annette). Partly because of the writing and partly because of the acting, nobody steals the show. Witness Lydia King’s wonderfully pretentious Véronique, strutting in the most garish garb on stage, claiming a passionate interest in Africa and finally declaring this to be ‘the unhappiest day’ of her life. Or Matthew Benson’s Michel, calmly contradicting his wife, then admitting unbridled hate for his children’s hamster he has emptied onto the street, as well as for children in general.

The timing is perfect, a highlight being how Annette (Becky Hartnup) snatches Alain’s phone from him, and, after a brilliant second of hesitation, puts it into the vase of tulips. And Simon Rudkin gives a master-class on how to make out you have to leave, convince an audience you’re going to, and then stay for more verbal fire (and another glass of rum). The movement between characters is precise and loaded. And the dialogue is all so fantastically detailed, from observations on how the school curriculum needs supplementing, to male pride in being the leader of a gang. Both boys may be guilty, but are they any better than their hamster-killing, legally mendacious fathers?

My only slight reservation concerns Christopher Hampton’s translation. There’s no problem with the actors’ French accents, but since almost all the geographical references and first names have been retained, it’s a rather artificial mouthful to change pronunciation half-way through a sentence. And who will have heard of a play by Molière which is hardly mainstream in the UK? It all makes for a somewhat distanced parody of the Parisian bourgeoisie. Which means it’s a more stilted effort to transfer our view to Hampstead or Islington, which is where an English version demands to be. Think about this possibility when you go to see this show—which you must.

  • : admin
  • : 12/08/2021