Wednesday, 11 April 2012


10/4/12, National (Cottesloe)

2 hrs 40 mins. Smoking alert (Danny Sapani a token, unenthusiastic puff or two; Ray Emmett Brown as Mavis's beau Prince smoking enthusiastically and for real, which is most unusual).

A masterclass in close-up naturalistic acting from a wonderful ensemble cast in a fine play written in 1953 by Errol John (actor and playwright -- once played Othello, as well as starring in the 1960 ITV presentation of this play) about Trinidad in 1947. The troops are returning from the war, and young Ephraim, trolleybus driver with prospects of promotion to inspector, has secretly saved the money for a passage to Liverpool because he's desperate to get out of Trinidad's dead-end society. (In England, of course, he'll most likely end up driving a bus, with the prospect of promotion to inspector, but that's another story).

Around him a strongly-drawn collection of characters living in rooms around the "yard" owned by miserly Mr Mack, who owns the local cafe. There's innocent young Rosa, pregnant with Ephraim's child (though he doesn't know it); hardworking, poverty-stricken Mrs Adams, mother not only to her scholarship girl daughter Esther but the entire yard, with her wastrel husband Charlie, once a cricketer who played for Trinidad; Mavis the hooker upstairs; Prince, her ridiculously dandyish beau. They may sound like types but the play was sufficiently well-written and (especially) well-performed to go well beyond stereotype. These were convincing, sympathetic and rounded people.

Danny Sapani too old for Ephraim (though John himself was 36 when he played him on TV) but a wonderful actor with great physical presence (we saw him in The Overwhelming and as Macbeth in Out of Joint's promenade production at Wilton's); Martina Laird brilliant as Mrs Adams; Tahirah Sharif ("playing age 18" according to Casting Call) utterly convincing as a 10 year old; Jude Akuwudike as Charlie; Jade Anouka (whose credits include Juliet and Ophelia) as Rosa; Burt Caesar as Mr Mack; Jenny Jules as Mavis (we saw her play the lead in Ruined at the Almeida, and in white-face with Lucian Msamati in Death and the King's Horseman).

Played in traverse with a wonderfully naturalistic set by Soutra Gilmour: the Adams's and Rosa's rooms as one end; the stairs to Mavis's at the other; beneath the stairs the bed in Ephraim's room -- all a miracle of compression. Directed by Michael Buffong. Plaudits all round.

It ended sadly after a rather melodramatic confrontation between the departing Ephraim and Mrs Adams, berating him and begging him to stay. There was some plot -- who stole the $70 from Mr Mack's cafe? -- but it emerged from a convincingly portrayed milieu with lots of patois and nicely-observed interactions. (Some of the accents slipped now and again.)

Because it came out of the British and Caribbean traditions there was no American-style need for a happy ending (unlike Ruined). All in all we liked it a lot.

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