One Night in Miami
Runs: 2h 0m: one interval: till 22 June
The Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company
An encounter remarkable in American history.
This play homes in on an encounter remarkable in American social history. On 25th February 1964 Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston to become the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World. Afterwards, accompanied by black rights activist Malcolm X, of The Nation of Islam, soul singer Sam Cooke, and NFL footballer Jim Brown, all of whom were friends, he retired to the Hampton House Hotel for the night.
The four spent hours together in Malcolm X’s room, talking about no one knows what, but this is an imaginative reconstruction of their conversation. All the men are passionate about black rights, but the dramatic interest arises from their being markedly different personalities with differing approaches to the common struggle. It’s especially poignant because within a year Cooke and Malcolm X, were to meet violent deaths.
Malcolm X is uncompromisingly militant, a Muslim convert who has no truck with racial integration. Clay is furthering the cause by being the best and prettiest pugilist there is. As a black entrepreneur in the music industry, and a terrific artiste, Cooke is almost unique. Brown is a great footballer beginning a Hollywood career.
There’s no emphasis on the downsides of these characters – Malcolm X was an anti-white racist; Cooke was by many accounts over-interested in working girls – but to be fair, you can’t criticize a playwright for not doing what he wasn’t trying to do.
The argument, at times tender and brotherly, also becomes angry, almost violent. Malcolm X, having converted Clay to Islam, is failing with the other two – Brown, is too fond of women and his granny’s fried pork to come over. But they also range over such topics as “the English invasion”, with mention of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
As Malcolm X, Christopher Colquhoun gives the finest performance of the evening. Elegant and handsome, he’s driven to tears at one point. Matt Henry, as Cooke, not only acts well; his singing is phenomenal. When he steps down to the stalls doing his stuff, he takes over the show. But Conor Glean never convinces as Clay, and, especially at the start, his lines are often incomprehensible, at least to a Nottingham audience.
A fine production nevertheless.
Malcolm X: Christopher Colquhoun
Cassius Clay: Conor Glean
Sam Cooke: Matt Henry
Jamaal: Oseloka Obi
Kareem: André Squire
Jim Brown: Miles Yekinni
Director: Matthew Xia
Designer: Grace Smart
Lighting Designer: Ciarán Cunningham
Sound Designer: Max Pappenheim
Voice Coach: Joel Trill