This Lyric Hammersmith and Talawa Theatre Company production of an assured and very promising first play by Sian Carter, moving and deeply interesting, is about a Jamaican family facing up to the problems of mental health, grief for a dead child and the way the years can turn a relationship into a kind of ritual. Carter handles her themes with sensitivity and the cast respond with superb performances. There is one problem, the Jamaican accents do at time overwhelm everything and what they are saying becomes hard to understand. It is not a problem for anyone who comes from the Caribbean but it was quite clear on the first night that lines which provoked delighted laughter from large sections of the audience fell on uncomprehending ears in other parts of the house.This was a pity because qite clearly Carter had come up with some cracking dialogue. There is a marvellous set by Soutra Gilmour which somehow manages to place what we see somewhere in limbo, a star filled void in which there is an amazing curved staircase surround the family’s living room, which has been beautifully lit. Maxwell (Will Johnson dominating the evening) is a devout paterfamilias with a devoted wife and a dead painter son who only surfaces in ghostly terms as the evening progresses. His daughter Gloria has spent years in and out of mental homes and her teenage daughter Imani is intent on flying the nest as she has won a scholarship to study in the United States. But mother, who has spent years in and out of a mental home, and grandparents do not want her to go. The struggle the family faces as it comes to terms with reality is moving and an explosive first act curtain which takes the audience by surprise. The second of the two acts is possibly the stronger as they come to terms with life. The structure is shaky at times, but director Michael Bufong has handled the text with care and there are the actors who seize on the roles and perform brilliantly to make this an evening to enjoy.
Nobody is cured, but by the end some of the family’s problems have been solved, new starts are beginning to be made. As to those missed speeches, well maybe slowing down a little when delivering them would help. It is a real problem not confined to me, one that should be able to be resolved but in every other respect this is a play worth seeing.
Imani: Ruby Barker.
Maxwell: Will Johnson.
Joshua: Nickolia King-N’da.
Shirley: Suzette Llewellyn.
Gloria: Velila Tshabalala.
Director: Michael Buffong.
Set & Costumes: Soutra Gilmour.
Lighting Design: Aideen Malone.
Sound Design: Tony Gayle.
Movement: Angela Gasparetto.
Production photographs: Jahvin-Morgan-Photography.