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Posts Tagged ‘Nancy Medina’

I’m not sure we’ve seen this 7th play in August Wilson’s American Century Cycle in the UK before; if so, it certainly passed me by. Each play represents the African American experience in one decade of the 20th Century, this one the sixties. They are all set in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, from where Wilson himself hails, this play in Lee’s Restaurant, owned by a character called Memphis.

It’s 1969, a year after the assassination of Martin Luther King. The civil rights movement is very active, there are regular clashes as the police target the black community and Pittsburgh’s urban renewal is displacing black families. All this is happening outside Memphis’ establishment, which is itself threatened by compulsory purchase for development. Apart from Memphis and his assistant Risa, we meet two black businessmen, the very successful local undertaker and property owner West, and Holloway, whose business interests are less clear. Homeless man Hambone, hardy able to communicate, drifts in and out, as does Wolf, who runs an illegal betting business using the diner’s phone. Wheeler-dealer Sterling, recently out of prison, makes a play for Risa, befriends Hambone, does deals with Memphis and bets with Wolf. In many ways, he’s the heart if the play.

There’s less plot and character development than Wilson’s other plays. It’s more of a social history, though of a fascinating period close enough to resonate. It’s like seven lives converging inside the restaurant, with events outside a backdrop, and there’s a tragic but very satisfying and defiant conclusion. I struggled to engage with the first half’s overlong eighty minute scene setting, but the second half was much better, though I don’t think it’s amongst the best of the cycle, despite the ripeness of the period. I also struggled catching all of the dialogue, as the emphasis was on authenticity more than clarity. Frankie Bradshaw’s design is terrific, a realistic diner with an impressionistic city backdrop and a symbolic wrecking ball, and director Nancy Medina has repaid the trust of the judges of the RTST Sir Peter Hall Director Award with a fine production. It would be invidious to single out any individual in this very fine cast; the seven performances are uniformly excellent.

I’m getting fond of these afternoon trips to Northampton,where so much quality drama now originates. Co-produced by ETT, this one also gets to be seen in six other towns and cities. Get to one of them!

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I loved Inua Ellams last play, The Barbershop Chronicles, so much so that I went twice. This is a very different proposition, a storytelling two-hander, a poem really. The staging and performances are excellent, but I’m afraid I failed to engage with the story.

Demi is a Nigerian basketball prodigy. We learn that he is the result of his mother Modupe’s rape by Greek god Zeus, the prize in a bet with a Yoruba god. Demi is therefore a half god, which gives him powers over and above his sporting prowess. When he learns how he was conceived, he’s intent on revenge. Half god v the most powerful god of all.

The performances of Kwami Odoom as Demi and Rakie Ayola as Modupe are captivating, prowling around the stage, very animated. Max Johns’ simple design, Jackie Shemesh striking lighting, Tanuja Amarasuriya’s atmospheric sound design and Imogen Knight’s movement contribute significantly to Nancy Medina’s excellent staging. In the end though it was the story itself which left me cold. The previous play had so much truth, humanity and energy. This just had energy.

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