Is God Is by Aleshea Harris. The Jerwood downstairs, Royal Court Theatre, London to 23 October 2021. 3***. William Russell.

The problem – for me at least – with this melodramatic tale of two sisters from the deep south out for vengeance was that for large stretches of time, especially in the opening scenes, I could not make out pretty well everything the actors playing them were saying. The actors playing the male roles – their victims – were fine so I don’t think it was deafness on my part, just that the timbre of their voices resonated whereas the women doing deep south accents squawked. This is a pity because the play is worth watching, well staged and consistently surprising. It is violent, but the comic book style director Ola Ince has adopted makes what could be gross, and there is nothing Quentin Tarantino has not accustomed one to accepting on screen or Martin McDonagh on stage, genuinely funny, invariably satisfying, and sometimes deeply unfair as not all the victims of the vengeful two deserve their ends.
The staging is clever with some rather scary fire effects, the journey across America illustrated by an occasional change of backcloth – the rear wall is simply decaying brick – and the wheeling on and off stage of the house in California the pair are headed for which also can be revolved by the actors turning it round so that we go from porch to parlour, an exercise which at times made one fear for the front two or three rows of the stalls.
Racine (Tamara Lawrance) and Anaia (Adelayo Adedayo) are 21 year old twins apparently badly scarred with burns, who are summoned from their respective jobs by their long lost mother, She or God (Cecilia Noble), who is incarcerated hideously scarred in bed in an old folks home somewhere in the deep and dirty south. She or God sends them on a mission to avenge themselves and her by killing Man (Mark Monero), their father, who caused the fire which years before had scarred them all. Refreshingly what follows is not another play about slavery and the injustices of the past or the present inflicted on African Americans. Race relations in the United States do not feature. It is about people regardless of colour out for justice as they see it.
On the way the pair, armed with a rock in a sock, used to lethal but comic effect by Racine, the more violent of the twins – it makes a funny noise on contact with the victims – dispose of a smarmy lawyer before meeting Man’s new family, his wife Angie (Vivienne Acheampong) and twin sons Riley (Rudolphe Mdlongwa) and Scotch (Ernest Kinglsey Jr). In due course the rock gets used once Man reveals he doesn’t regret setting She on fire, the bodies pile up and Anaia, who is pregnant, goes back to God, by now is on her last legs. One expects the rock to get used again but expectations are there not to be fulfilled as the play keeps wrong footing the audience. The language – the play text was provided – is tough, funny and to the point and the play, in spite of the problems I had making out what Racine and Anaia were saying, is undeniably well staged, worth seeing and deserves those stars in spite of the problems I had.
Angie: Vivcienne Acheampong.
Anaia: Adelayo Adedayo.
Chuck Hall: Ray Emmet Brown.
Scotch: Ernest Kingsley Jr.
Racine: Tamara Lawrance.
Riley: Rudolphe Mdlongwa.
Man: Mark Monero.
She: Cecilia Noble.

Director: Ola Ince.
Set Designer: Chloe Lamford.
Costume Designer: Natalie Pryce.
Lighting Designer: Simisola Lucia Majekadunmi.
Composer: Russell Shaw.
Sound Designer: Max Perryment.
Movement Director: Imogen Knight.
Choreographer: Jorda ‘JFunk’ Franklin.
Special Effects Designer: Susanna Peretz.

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