by Angelina Weld Grimke.
Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Arms 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 25 October 2015.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat, Sun 3pm.
Runs: 2hr 15min One interval, to 25 October 2014.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652.
Review: Carole Woddis 2 October.
Domestic souls laid bare.
The Finborough’s Neil McPherson has done it again with this early 20th century cracker from Angelina Weld Grimké, the first professionally produced play by an African-American woman.
First staged in 1916, Rachel was the product of a woman whose educated but mixed race parentage gave her distinctive insights into racism and colour prejudice.
Rachel is remarkable, not least for its insider view of Afro-American family life at the turn of the century – a world of scrupulous propriety as if the hardships endured outside the front door imposed even harsher standards of cleanliness and clean living within and behind the front door.
But if Rachel was only about the domestic picture it’s historical and social significance would be interesting but not create the extraordinary emotional impact it delivers. For Grimké dares to look within the souls of her characters and with a laser-like beam, searches out the inner damage inflicted by racism on the most vulnerable and their prospects for the future.
In a neat but small apartment in an unspecified northern USA town, Rachel Loving, bright, articulate dreams of the joys of motherhood and children. She is, she says, drawn to them, particularly brown ones, to protect them. She also harbours an intense faith, as does her mother, the hard-working seamstress, Mrs Loving, and brother Thomas. Their scenes together, as directed by Ola Ince and performed with rare delicacy and integrity by the company, creates the atmosphere for one crucial moment: Rachel’s realisation of what awaits a child with a coloured skin beyond their safe, loving front door.
When the truth finally comes crashing in, Rachel’s response is extreme, terrifying and shocking. Foregoing any possible happiness, she rejects the hand of one who offers it in the shape of the charming, pragmatic Head waiter, John Strong.
Written 40 years before Lorraine Hansberry’s ground breaking A Raisin in the Sun and some seventy years before Sarah Daniels’ The Devil’s Gateway, Rachel emerges as an early fore-runner of the consciousness raising plays so distinctive of British feminist drama of the 1980s but adds to it the devastating sense of blight, despair and disillusion wrought by prejudice. Simply stunning.
Mrs Loving: Miquel Brown.
Rachel Loving: Adelayo Adedayo.
Thomas Loving: Nakay Kpaka.
Jimmy Mason: Joel McDermot/William Wright-Neblett.
John Strong: Zephryn Taitte.
Mrs Lane: Sheila Atim.
Ethel Lane: Kaylah BlackLexyn Boahen.
Director: Ola Ince.
Designer: Alex Marker.
Lighting: Elliot Griggs.
Sound: Max Pappenheim.
Costume: Anna Lewis.
Assistant director: Daniel Bailey.
Rachel was first produced in Washington DC in March 1916 by The Drama Committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). It was later performed at the Neighborhood Playhouse, New York City and in Cambridge, Mass. First published in 1920.
UK premiere at the Finborough Theatre, London 30 September 2014.