NOTE: The following review dates from May 2005 and this production's initial dates at the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich.
Extremes can have a meeting point - but it's too often a point from which there can be no return. Take the stories of past and present which come together in James Baldwin's Blues for Mr Charlie, first staged in 1964 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the USA. It is a 20th century variant on classic Greek tragedy.
We are in a small town somewhere in the Deep South, where the "poor Whites" are struggling to survive financially and culturally. The parallel Black community simply wants to be something more than just second-class citizens in the country which once enslaved them.
Both societies fear change and resent outsiders. For the Whites, the Northern-educated and well-to-do newspaper editor Parnell James (Rolf Saxon) epitomises both these worries. For the Blacks, it's Richard (Michael Price), the son of preacher Meridian Henry (Ray Shell).
Richard has come back from New York with a basket-load of frustration chips on his shoulder. Faced once more with the reality of Southern existence, personified by loud-mouth storekeeper Lyle Britten (Barnaby Kay) and his wife Jo (Ruth Grey), the stage is set for tragedy.
There is no doubt what form the physical tragedy will take. It is heard even before the lights go up on Libby Watson's versatile clapboard set. The psychological tragedies take longer to present themselves but are just as inevitable, and poignant.
If Richard and Lyle are protagonist and antagonist, they have the support of a large chorus of individualised small-town characters. Prominent among these are Alibe Parsons as Richard's grandmother, Larrington Walker as the shifty Papa D, Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Juanita, who has aspirations but no hope and Ellen Sheean as Hazel, who can recall her old Black nurse with real affection and respect yet remains as racially bigoted as any of her neighbours.
Director Paulette Randall paces the action through to the climatic courtroom scene, with its deliberate echoes of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. The choreographed scene-shifting devised by Paul J Medford concentrates attention to the fact that this is a physical society where words and feelings fuse into action. Action which is spattered with blood.
- Anne Morley-Priestman (reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich)