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Posts Tagged ‘Lynn Nottage’

This is a fine example of that rare species, the blue-collar play. Lynn Nottage’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning work does more to help you understand recent events in the US than any number of newspaper articles or TV documentaries, and it does so by focusing on the lives of just eight people in the industrial town of Reading PA.

Most of the scenes are set in Mike’s Bar in 2000 when America is going through things not unlike 80’s Britain. The NAFTA deal is seeing production move to Mexico, union power is waning, leading to much less generous contracts, which if declined result in cheaper temps, mostly hispanic, being hired. People are losing jobs and homes and addiction levels rise.

Three friends who work together on the shop floor of a local factory meet in the bar after work and on each other’s birthdays. Stan the barman used to work with them until he was injured. His Puerto Rican assistant Oscar aspires to a job there. African American Cynthia’s estranged husband Brucie has been on strike at another plant for a long time. She aspires to promotion and her son Chris, also in the plant, to escape through education. Widow Tracey and her son Jason and singleton Jessie are her friends and colleagues. Cynthia gets her promotion which gives her insight into the company’s plans. When all of their worlds begin to crumble, they turn on one another as well as the perpetrators of their plight, racism rears its ugly head, relationships disintegrate and tragedy ensues. Three scenes take us forward eight years to see how things work out. The ending packs a real emotional punch.

It’s a superbly written play, really well structured. The bar is towered over by an impressionistic factory in Frankie Bradshaw’s excellent design. The performances are as authentic as the writing, an absolutely stunning ensemble, with Martha Plimpton making a very welcome visit to these shores. It’s great to see Lynette Linton, a director the Donmar (and other theatres) have nurtured, get such a high profile gig, and she really rises to the occasion with a faultless staging, a great omen for her forthcoming role as Bush Theatre AD.

If you’re puzzled why people voted Trump or Brexit, this thoroughly researched, objective play will help you understand without lecturing, hectoring or preaching. It’s one of my three best new plays of 2018 (though I cheated a bit because it was my first of 2019). Go!

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It’s great that we’ve got theatres like the Park & St. James that can bring small scale shows in from outer London and the regions quickly. The thought of London missing out on this little gem from Bath, now a regional powerhouse, is inconceivable.

The play tells the story of Esther, who traveled from Carolina to New York City in her teens, after the death of her mother. In Mrs Dixon’s rooming house she works as a seamstress and is shown how to make intimate apparel, a lucrative line. When we meet her she is 35, successful (she has saved a veritable fortune) but unmarried. We meet two of her clients, a wealthy but unhappy society woman and a prostitute. We also meet orthodox Jew Mr Marks from whom she procures all her fabric. They share a love of fine cloth and there is a certain frisson between them. She receives a letter from a labourer on the Panama Canal who becomes her pen pal, though others have to read his letters and write her replies as she can’t. He proposes by letter, she accepts, he arrives in New York, they marry and her world is turned upside down.

It’s slow to take off, but when it does its a captivating and deeply moving story. There are only six characters but a lot of short scenes and a lot of locations, but with a clever design (Mark Bailey) it doesn’t lose pace in Laurence Boswell’s fine staging. Tanya Moodie is sensational in the lead role; she plays it with such delicacy and conviction. Chu Omambala as George has great presence, though I occasionally struggled with his accent, as I think he did! Dawn Hope is a lovely contrast as Mrs Dixon, who confides in Esther and relies on her. Further contrast comes with her unlikely friendship with prostitute Mayme, beautifully played by Rochelle Neil. There are fine supporting performances from Sara Topham as wealthy Mrs Van Buren and Ilan Goodman (a bit of a dead ringer for his dad Henry, who was in the audience last night) as Mr Marks.

This is a very different piece from other Lynn Nottage plays that have crossed the Atlantic – Fabulation and Ruined – and there seem to be another half-dozen plays we haven’t seen yet. She’s a fine playwright, so let’s see them please!

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This is a hugely important play, helping us to understand the ongoing conflict in Congo and those caught in the middle of it, particularly women. It has clearly moved beyond political power (was it ever?) and taken on a life of its own with many self-interested factions fighting over money (and access to it) as much as anything else and prepared to commit appalling crimes including rape and mutilation to achieve their ends.

You may think  ‘what has theatre got to do with this?’ – well, I happen to think it has a role to explain and illuminate what’s going on in our world and this play, by American writer Lynn Nottage, is therefore very welcome…..but seing it is often a disturbing and very harrowing experience.

The first act sets the scene, introduces the characters and puts their situation into context. Mama runs a bar for miners, soldiers and those passing through offering rather more than beer. Her girls are refugees, disowned by their families after having been raped and mutilated for no fault of their own. It is in the second act – a masterpiece of writing, direction and acting – where the full truth emerges as events turn violent. Salima’s story (based on a very real person’s experiences) breaks your heart and the situation seems completely hopeless. However, the play ends with a humanity which lifts you and provides a modicum of hope for you to take away from the theatre.

Indhu Rubasingham’s direction is impeccable. Robert Jones has created an extraordinarily believable bush hut which revolves to provide the bar, porch and bedroom. The ensemble is excellent and at its core there are two truly magnificent performances from Jenny Jules and Lucian Msamati. I’ve never seen a standing ovation in my many visits to the Almeida, and this completely impulsive one was richly deserved.

Not an easy evening, but an absolute must-see experience.

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