Posts Tagged ‘Libby Watson’

August Wilson’s 1987 play ended up as part of a cycle of ten, each representing a decade of the 20th century black American experience (though not written in sequence). This one represents the 50’s and was the 3rd to be written (the last was written in 2005, the year of his death).

The play revolves around 50-something Troy, a dominant husband, brother and father who spent time in prison and is a bit fixated on death. Brother Gabriel has returned from the war deeply disturbed and Troy uses his compensation money to buy a home. He failed to make a career in baseball, the odds loaded heavily against black players at the time, but makes a decent living as a garbage man with his best friend Jim Bono. He falls out with his son Cory when he prevents him from perusing his own baseball ambitions. He’s unfaithful to his wife Rose and when his lover dies giving birth to his child, Rose takes the baby as her own. The first half is overlong and overwritten, but it picks up considerably after the interval. It’s an interesting enough family drama, but I’m not sure it really goes anywhere.

The chief reason for seeing it is as fine a set of performances as you could wish for. You can tell these actors have been on the road for three months as they are now inhabiting their characters seemingly effortlessly. Colin McFarlane is excellent as friend Bono and has great chemistry with Lenny Henry’s Troy. Tanya Moodie is wonderful as the put-upon wife who also plays off Henry brilliantly. Ian Charleston Award winner Ashley Zhangazha is simply terrific as Cory; a real one-to-watch. It’s just four years since Lenny Henry’s acting debut (baptism of fire) as Othello. Then he had great presence and a great speaking voice, but you could see him acting; now he’s the real deal – a hugely impressive, towering performance; you can’t take your eyes off him as he becomes Troy.

The action takes place in the front yard and on the porch of a two-story house (designed by Libby Watson) which dominates the stage of this small theatre, bringing further intensity to the drama. A welcome addition to the West End, which looks like it’s broadening its audience healthily.

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This is accurately billed as a cross between The Cosby Show and restoration comedy. Director Dawn Walton’s decision to stage it as a TV sitcom recording – countdowns to the start, large red ‘On Air’ sign, actor introductions to canned laughter – is a good one as it makes this 30 year-old Don Evans play more acceptable for a modern audience.

Black middle-class social climbers Myra (complete with malapropisms in keeping with the billing) and Avery’s lives are turned upside down by their son’s relationship with a girl from the wrong side of town and a visiting teenage relative’s dubious relationship with club owner Caleb, now her guardian following the death of her father / his boss.

It’s a light romcom with a touch of period satire, but it’s performed with much brio in a cartoonish Carry On style. The acting is sometimes too broad (Jocelyn Jee Eslen’s Myra and Isaac Seebandeke’s as her son Felix) but it’s often laugh-out-loud funny. I particularly liked both of Jacqueline Boatswain’s turns as hairdresser Mozelle and much older mum Mrs Caldwell.

Libby Watson’s two room set looks like they didn’t measure the space first as it spills over left and right of the side seating, but it’s crucial to both the period feel and the TV recording concept.

It’s clearly attracting an appropriately diverse audience and, though not produced by it, suggests that there will be room for lighter fare at the Tricycle under its new artistic director. Harmless fun and a fascinating peek at early 80’s black American writing.

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