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Critics enjoy Scottsboro Boys at Young Vic

Susan Stroman's production of ''The Scottsboro Boys'' opened at the Young Vic earlier this week. Starring Julian Glover, Kyle Scatliffe and Colman Domingo, it runs until 21 December

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Company of The Scottsboro Boys
© Richard Hubert Smith

Michael Coveney

…this hard-hitting, relentless but ultimately irresistible new musical… now joined by the extraordinary Kyle Scatliffe as Haywood Patterson… Simple and direct in its staging - Beowulf Boritt's design comprises a few chairs and a couple of planks, ingeniously deployed throughout – there's hardly a moment's let-up in two uninterrupted hours, creating a sort of vivid kangaroo court effect that doesn't have the musical variety or impact of Chicago, nor the sex appeal; what it does have is anger in spades (sic) and a boiling sense of injustice filtered for fun... What the songs lack in real heft and the strangulating melodic twist of Kander and Ebb at their mordant best is made up for in the performance voltage…

Henry Hitchins
Evening Standard

…This is a barbed, ambitious show that revels in contrast as it simultaneously charms and provokes. Directed by Susan Stroman, the whole cast is superb - a mix of British talent and performers who graced the original Broadway show. Colman Domingo and Forrest McClendon make a snappily unpleasant double act as wisecracking "end men" Mr Bones and Mr Tambo. But the stand-out performance comes from the imposing Kyle Scatliffe as Haywood Patterson, the most defiant of the accused. Stroman's pin-sharp choreography creates an unrelenting dynamism… My main cavil is that, playing nearly two hours without an interval, The Scottsboro Boys needs more tonal variety. Yet it is eloquent about the scope for a single lie to devastate the lives of innocent people. It is in many respects a brilliant achievement…

Michael Billington

…it is the contrast between the jauntiness of the songs and the injustice suffered by the story's victims that is stunning… The big question is whether an entertainment show can arouse retrospective indignation. This one definitely does… But this is a show that combines a social conscience with wittily inventive direction and choreography from Susan Stroman. She evokes the Chattanooga train out of chairs and planks, makes clever use of shadow-play… The cast, including five from the original Broadway production, is exceptionally strong. Colman Domingo and Forrest McClendon have the vaudevillian bounce of Mr Bones and Mr Tambo, James T. Lane flounces amusingly as a confessional prostitute and Kyle Scatliffe has an overpowering presence as the most resilient of the incarcerated youths…

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

…The production, with a book by David Thompson, is uncomfortable, edgy and more than a little self-righteous. But is also passionate, original, and at times deeply moving… The lyrics are often smart and sharp, and there is a great deal of pitch-black comedy… Colman Domingo and Forrest McClendon prove a grotesquely comic double-act as Mr Tambo and Mr Bones, the black actors playing the white roles, while Kyle Scatliffe shines particularly brightly as Haywood Paterson… The show is simply but ingeniously staged with a few chairs suggesting everything from a railroad train to prison cells, and though this is the very antithesis of a feel-good musical, there is no mistaking its power, dark wit and indignation.

Paul Taylor

…Directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, this re-staging of the 2010 Broadway production deploys the ironic minstrel-show conceit with a stinging dynamism… Reference is made to dismaying fact that when the four youngest were released in 1937, they were put into a vaudeville act in Harlem. This detail seems to have inspired the creators of this musical which climaxes in a blistering top-hat-and-tails number with added black-face make-up where the notoriety of the men is guyed as showbiz adulation… and contrasted with their deeply bleak future fate. In a phenomenal cast, Kyle Scatliffe is extraordinarily charismatic as Haywood Patterson, the most defiant of the bunch. Not since Sondheim's Assassins has an apparent mismatch between form and content been exploited with such savage pertinence.

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

Kander and Ebb's The Scottsboro Boys is an admirable work, well sung, athletically danced. In Kyle Scatliffe it has a muscular, charismatic star. Yet this musical is not as moving as it might – or should – be. Its cleverness gets in the way… Of the accused boys, Idriss Kargbo hits high notes as the youngest. But much of the work falls on Mr Scatliffe's Haywood Patterson, strongest-willed of the suspects… It is possible to find the style of the production both ingenious and frustrating… A musical which fails to stir the emotions is, arguably, a less satisfying experience. At the end of this almost two-hour production (done without an interval) I felt I had seen a professional, intelligent piece of theatre. But I did not feel my soul had been gripped.


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