JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE
by August Wilson.
Young Vic 66 The Cut SE1 8LZ To 3 July 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & 16, 30 June 2.30pm.
Audio-described 26 June 2.30pm.
Captioned 21 June.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7922 2922.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 3 June.
A sure candidate to go and see.
If Eugene O’Neill was the first great writer of 20th-century American theatre, August Wilson was its last, a voice of Black America in his ten plays exploring Black US lives in each decade. This 1987 play looks at the century’s second decade; it’s set in 1911, but Young Vic Director David Lan is right not to wait for the happenstance of a centenary to revive it.
Wilson’s plays are built on dialogue and character. Often little seems to be happening in the daily lives of his characters; yet the strength of his dialogue carries audiences with the slow-burn drama.
Set in Seth and Bertha Holly’s rooming-house, a place for transients, this play’s about coming and going. Seth’s first question is how long newcomers intend staying. Always one for making a bit of money (the room price is the other bit of information asserted upfront) he also beats metal into utensils for itinerant pedlar Rutherford.
Rutherford finds missing people, for a fee. Which matters when Herald Loomis arrives, with his daughter, looking for the wife he was separated from a decade back by Joe Turner – a half-century after the American Civil War began, Whites like Turner were still abducting Black people as forced labour wherever force out-rode the sway of law.
It’s unsurprising the experience and the separation, aggravated by the search for his wife and finding their daughter apparently abandoned, should scar Loomis mentally. When the guests begin an after-dinner juma or dance of religious ecstasy, as they often did, Loomis enters and is freaked out by it, whirling into a destructive vision where the demons of his experience emerge, something from which he barely recovers.
Kobna Holdbrook Smith points the contrast between this and the buttoned-up propriety Loomis shows elsewhere, itself a contrast to Danny Sapani’s ever-practical Seth.
There’s strong work through the cast, with Joe Turner veteran Delroy Lindo giving old Bynum a strong sense of self-belief. Lan’s in-the-round staging, on Patrick Burnier’s sand-covered set, gives a sense of transience and passing-through, while diluting its realistic strengths. But strong it remains and many the virtues of this revival.
Bertha: Adjoa Andoh.
Reuben: Brandon Benoit-Joyce/Tapiwa Mugweni.
Rutherford Selig: Daniel Cerqueira.
Herald Loomis: Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.
Molly: Petra Letang.
Bynum: Delroy Lindo.
Jeremy: Nathaniel Martello-White.
Zonia Loomis: Leah Ocran/Jessica Richardson.
Mattie: Demi Oyediran.
Seth: Danny Sapani.
Martha: Riann Steele.
Director: David Lan.
Designer: Patrick Burnier.
Lighting: Mike Gunning.
Sound: Gareth Fry.
Music: Tim Sutton.
Choreography: Thea Nerissa Barnes.
Costume: Gabrielle Dalton.
Dialect: Neil Swain.
Assistant director: Peter Cant.