Tag Archives: Bethan Mary James

A Miller’s Tale

ALL MY SONS

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 24th March, 2015

 

Arthur Miller’s 1947 play – one of his great domestic tragedies – receives a refreshing new production from the acclaimed Talawa theatre company, with an all-black cast. It’s an interesting take and what ultimately comes across is that it’s not the colour of the skin, it’s the common humanity underneath it that gives this piece its power.

Joe Keller (Ray Shell) is looking forward to handing over his factory to grown-up son Chris (Leemore Marrett Jr) but Chris has other ideas. He wants to marry Annie the former girlfriend of his brother Larry, who has been missing for three years or so. Larry’s mother and Joe’s wife Kate refuses to believe that Larry is gone for good. She’s even got neighbour Frank to draw up a horoscope for Larry in the hope of reassurance.

Yes, there is tension beneath the surface but on the whole they seem like an amiable bunch – funny, even. But Arthur Miller won’t let things go on like this for much longer. Gradually, details bubble to the surface and patriarch Joe must face his past transgressions. Ray Shell is marvellous as Joe, paternalistic and funny. He and Leemore Marrett Jr share some explosive ding-dong scenes, beautifully handled by director Michael Buffong.

Also excellent is Dona Croll as the matriarch desperate to keep things together through the power of denial. In fact there is much to appreciate in this production, which comes across as more of an August Wilson than an Arthur Miller – but it is Miller who is the man of the moment – everyone’s doing him in this year marking the centenary of his birth.

There is character work to be savoured: Andrea Davy as neighbour Sue; Chinna Wodu as amateur astrologer Frank; Bethan Mary-James as Frank’s pretty wife (easily the most Tennessee Williams-like of the characters!) – all make an impression. Kemi-Bo Jacobs Ann is stylish and has great poise but I wish she wouldn’t roam around the set so much, like a graceful princess from a different story.

Director Michael Buffong needs to keep an ear on the accents, for consistency, so that they don’t roam around either.

Ellen Cairns’s beautiful set suggests the sultriness of a Tennessee Williams, although in this play it is not sexual worms that are spilling out of the can.

It all unfolds at a steady pace and though the ending has more than a touch of Hedda Gabler to it, Miller’s play still packs a punch and is served very well in this eminently watchable and emotive production.

Ray Shell and Dona Kroll (Phto: Pamela Raith)

Ray Shell and Dona Kroll (Phto: Pamela Raith)


Superior Soap

Errol John’s play from the 1950s deals with three households that share a yard in the less-than-wealthy side of Trinidad.  It begins with a song that sets the scene: a song about poverty and corruption everywhere, people are hungry when they should be angry – it’s an indirect commentary on the state of the UK under the present coalition government.  It is perhaps the only moment when the show has signs of contemporary relevance.  Having as much impact as an Ibsen play when it was first produced, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl suffers nowadays thanks to the prevalence of similar material widely available on the telly.  There is nothing that happens here that you can’t see in a soap opera any night of the week.

What counts then is the execution.  Director Michael Buffong allows his excellent cast time to let their characters breathe.  There is humour and conflict in the form of spats between neighbours but overall there is a leisurely pacing that allows us to savour the performances.  It reminds me of an August Wilson or an Arthur Miller – with a Caribbean flavour.

Martina Laird is powerful as matriarch Sophie Adams; hard-working and sardonic, she is ultimately a tragic figure as circumstances conspire to tear her little world apart.  Funny and formidable, Laird collapses into heart-rending distress as the lights go down.  It’s a superb performance.

She is supported by a likeable ensemble.  Tahirah Sharif is brimming with youthful vigour and youthful temperament as Sophie’s daughter Esther, whose scholarship to attend high school prompts her unemployed father (Jude Akuwudike) to take action that has devastating repercussions.  Neighbour Ephraim (an excellent Okezie Morro) seeks to improve his prospects by sailing off to a new life in England.  To do this he must abandon his up-the-duff girlfriend (Alisha Bailey) who is in turn fending off sexual harassment from her boss Old Mr Mack (Burt Caesar) who is also everyone’s landlord.  Old Mack is a bit of a slimeball and is held up for ridicule.  There is also comic relief from squawking whore Mavis (Bethan Mary James) and Prince, her suitor (Ray Emmet Brown)  Errol John allows Mavis a roundedness to her character.  Despite her loudness and carrying-on, she is that staple of drama and literature, a tart with a heart.

Soutra Gilmour’s detailed set and Steve Brown’s sound design give us a strong flavour of the location and the period.  We can imagine the world beyond the yard.  As with plays of this type, important events take place off-stage.  It’s an old-fashioned, well-made play made vibrant in a high quality, impassioned production.

The play suggests that wanting to better yourself comes at a terrible price, and you will invariably be worse off for trying – which is rather a dim view of the potential for social mobility – which is perhaps true of Britain today too…

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Martina Laird