THE COLORED MUSEUM
by George C Wolfe.
Victoria & Albert Museum (Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre) Cromwell Road* SW7 2RL To 23 October 2011.
1pm, 3.30pm, 7pm (Saturday only).
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
(*Exhibition Road entrance is nearest to the venue)
TICKETS: 020 7942 2211 (Mon-Fri 9am-5.30pm handling charge £2).
www.vam.ac.uk (£1 handling charge)
Review: Carole Woddis 19 October.
Lively revival of something that’s no museum-piece.
If satire is the highest form of compliment, George C Wolfe’s The Colored Museum must be one of the greatest tributes to America’s Afro-Americans.
One of the break-through plays of the late 1980s, anyone who saw when it then will never forget the shock it generated, pillorying as it did racial stereotypes and the African-American experience from one of its own, with attacks on some of Black America’s most cherished icons.
As part of its 25th anniversary celebrations, Talawa, the leading Black British theatre company, have chosen to revive it, daringly within the museum environment of the V&A no less.
Wolfe’s groundbreaking approach was to deliver the play through a series of Black racial stereotypes in order to knock them down. In the vast rotunda of a V&A Lecture Hall these `exhibits’ come alive once more in a terrific production that matches the savagery of Wolfe’s self-mockery with superb energy and skill.
As in the pastiche on Lorraine Hansberry’s totemic A Raisin in the Sun, re-titled The Last Mama-on-the-Couch Play. Or the deadly critical take on Ebony magazine where the photo models are forever smiling, glamorous and feeling no pain.
Pain is the thing Wolfe wants to transcend by confronting its roots. He brilliantly contrasts the residual pain of Black Americans – “welcome aboard the slaveship”, an air hostess gaily exhorts. “Adjust your shackles” – with Afro-American attempts to cauterise it by denials: through drink, drugs, glamour or suppression of Black identity.
Talawa’s cast of five emerge from a collection of packing cases to become soldiers, night club `snap’ queens, Josephine Baker-inspired divas and in one memorable scene, like Nell and Nagg from Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, to discuss the relatives merits of frizzy or long hair-styles (a perennial `black’ preoccupation).
Sometimes the American cultural references of the 1980s must have seemed long ago and far away for some of the British and largely Black student audience. But such is the dynamism of this production, Wolfe’s message with its hope, its call to arms to throw away passivity and transcend racial discrimination through celebration of Black identity carries all before it. Fantastic.
Juni Robinson (Soldier with a Secret), Waiter (The Gospel According to Miss Roj, Narrator (The Last Mama-on-the-Couch Play, The Man (Symbiosis), Flo’rance (Lala’s Opening, The Man (The Party): Ashley Campbell.
Guy (The Photo Session), Miss Roj (The Gospel According to Miss Roj), Walter-Lee-Beau-Willie-Jones (The Last Mama-on-the-Couch Play), The Kid (Symbiosis), Miss Roj ( The Party): Terry Doe.
Musician: Marc Forde.
Girl (The Photo Session, Woman (The Hairpiece, Medea Jones (The Last Mama-on-the-Couch Play The Little Girl (Lala’s Opening), Norma Jean Reynolds (Permutations and The Party: Akiya Henry.
Miss Pat (Git on Board, Janine The Hairpiece, Lady in Plaid (The Last Mama-on-the Couch Play), Admonia (Lala’s opening, Topsy ( The Party): Gbemisola Ikumelo.
Aunt Ethel (Cookin’ with Aunt Ethel), LaWanda (The Hairpiece), Mama (The Last Mama-on-the-Couch Play, LaLaLamazing Grace (Lala’s Opening), LaLaLamazing Grace (The Party): Alana Maria
Director: Don Warrington.
Designer/Costume: Jonathan Fensom.
Lighting: Jason Taylor.
Sound: Joseph Young.
Musical Director: Dominique Le Gendre.
Movement: Omar F Okai
Associate lighting: Tom Wickens.