Blues for an Alabama Sky - National Theatre
Are dreams enough to escape tragedy in Harlem?
A sprawling, extravagant set welcomes audiences into the National's Lyttelton Theatre - a cross-section of Harlem apartments designed by Frankie Bradshaw fills the dark expanse impressively and is peppered with detail as light cascades through the railings of the New York fire escapes.
Misfits, Angel and Guy, are battling to keep their creativity and careers alive. Angel, having newly been fired as a club singer is desperately seeking auditions in, thanks to the depression, an already oversaturated industry and Guy has dreams of moving to Paris as a costume designer - a dream that is eternally in the future and never the present. When Angel catches the eye of a southern gentleman she sees an opportunity for a safer life in the city but settling for secure and traditional does not necessarily translate into happiness. Along with fellow bohemians Delia and Sam they navigate the challenges of 1930s Harlem and the struggles to stay true to your authentic self and those around you.
Leading the proceedings we have Giles Terera and Helena Pipe (Samira Wiley was indisposed for this performance) as Guy and Angel respectively. Terera, bolstered by his immaculate costumes, brings vibrancy and colour to the weathered backdrop. His animated performance equally charming as it is pitiful with Guy’s desires never able to materialise despite his undying ambition and belief. Pipe is commanding as the troubled and unruly Angel - very much deserving of the spotlight. Whilst her character casually wields those around her, she is elegantly comfortable and confident leading this demanding production. Both are given chances to delicately emphasise their characters’ vulnerabilities and flaws with the balance between what is best for themselves versus what is right at stake.
Ronke Adékoluejo (Delia) and Sule Rimi (Sam) make for a delightful duo, completing the friendship group. As Delia, Adékoluejo represents the limited innocence still existing in Harlem often finding sweet humour through her bashful temperament but additionally defining the fight for contraception and choice at a time when particularly black communities had little access. Rimi’s Sam understands his place in the neighbourhood as a respected doctor but remains determined to “let the good times roll.” The ensemble dynamic of the four characters is natural, relatable and on the whole joyous to witness but following the arrival of Osy Ikhile’s Leland Cunningham gravely falls out of equilibrium.
As previously mentioned Bradshaw’s set is magnificent, with a gently revolve that places the location of the scene taking place nearest the audience - her costume design equally marvellous. Oliver Fenwick’s lighting is striking and detailed, able to breathe life into Bradshaw’s set whilst sound design from George Dennis is visceral and authentic. Benjamin Kwasi Burrell works as composer to frame the play with melancholic music and soul-wrenching singing. The direction is fluid and dynamic, uncovering the cyclic detail in the play’s staging. The creative ensemble has worked cohesively in their decision-making.
The story of wanting to escape your current circumstances for pastures greener is not a new one but Pearl Cleage’s script utilises the history of the great depression and the Harlem renaissance to add depth and authenticity to her characters whilst also drawing attention to the issues of the time. Lynette Linton’s timely revival does a remarkable job of further completing the weatherworn tapestry, deservedly bringing it to a new audience - a resounding success.
Running till 5 November - Tickets
Photography - Marc Brenner