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
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
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)