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Review Round-up: Prizes for Young Vic's Turner?

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August Wilson's modern classic Joe Turner's Come and Gone opened at the Young Vic last week (3 June 2010, previews from 27 May), with a cast including Delroy Lindo, who starred in the play's original Broadway cast in 1988.

The play, an account of a people’s recovery from the trauma of slavery, won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play when first performed on Broadway. Lindo stars alongside Adjoa Andoh, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Petra Letang and Danny Sapani.
  • Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (three stars) – “David Lan’s Young Vic production is a fearless mix of the everyday pain and spiritual aspiration in a 1911 Pittsburgh boarding house… Kobna Holdbrook-Smith… plays as a parched obsessive in search of his vanished wife, with a docile daughter in tow… Bynum is played by the hypnotically powerful American actor Delroy Lindo… He becomes the conduit and catalyst in the psychological action, which remains tethered in everyday rituals of meal times and recreation… There’s a rip-roaring, violent climax and, judging by the audience’s response, there are buttons pressed on the black experience here, which cannot be as rich and diverse as the American story, flashing by not only in the various anecdotal testaments and recollections of the characters, but in the blues soundtrack and slick lighting design of Mike Gunning.”
  • Michael Billington in the Guardian (four stars) – “What we see is conventional naturalism turning into a richly symbolic study of the need to both acknowledge, and reject, the psychic burden of slavery… The play has its faults. It takes time to catch up with Loomis's past. The boarding-house women are sketchily characterised. But Wilson's gift is his ability to encompass so much of black American experience and to embrace the possibilities of ritual… There's a superb moment when the characters, over Sunday dinner, break into an African 'juba'... And, at the climax, one is moved by Loomis's ability to reconnect with life and, having crawled across the floor during the juba, to stand on his own two feet… Placing the boarding house on a bumpy surface of red earth that covers the whole theatre, Patrick Burnier's design aptly reflects the play's overriding concern with African-American identity.”
  • Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph (four stars) – “All of which might sound a touch worthy, but the drama, lovingly directed by David Lan and played on a set, by Patrick Burnier, covered in compacted soil as a reminder of the rural roots of many of the characters, proves both amusing and deeply moving. At times one might be watching a black American Chekhov… The performances are superb, with especially fine work from Danny Sapani as the cantankerous but basically good-hearted Seth, Adjoa Andoh as his kind loving wife, Delroy Lindo as the wise, mysterious Bynum, and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who brings a fierce sense of anger and anguish to the stage as Loomis. By turns tender, tough and deeply affecting, this is a play, and a production, of great distinction.”
  • Libby Purves in The Times (three stars) – “Danny Sapani’s Seth is a lovely performance, ornery and impatient in a drifting household of two-buck lodgers held together by the pragmatic sweetness of Bertha (Adjoa Andoh). The regular lodger, Bynum, lyrically played by Delroy Lindo, has had a harder journey: a freed slave, he talks of self-belief as Everyman finding his song “written deep inside”… The play…is all about that lost song. The wild juba dance on Saturday night links them to African roots, more vigorous than the self-flagellating Pentecostalism with which the most damaged character, Herald Loomis (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith), is engaged… There are longueurs in the first act and a shrillness to the final melodrama; it is hard for any company fully to express Wilson’s last stage direction… But the drama and the pity sweep you into an age when tens of thousands wandered, lost, in the land of freedom.”
  • Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail (three stars) – “There is much to admire in this show. Some of the acting is first-class and the broad scope of the play is uplifting... It is handsomely staged and lit by the Young Vic, a venue fast becoming as significant as its Old Vic neighbour… The first half is mainly domestic comedy, various plot hares being set running: a romance or two, jokes about Seth's meanness, Bertha doing the cooking and some harmless hokum about spiritual gifts… The intruder who changes everything is a single father, Herald Loomis. A part-time preacher, he is looking for his long-lost wife… Where the play lost me was in a protracted meltdown. Loomis confronts his demons and there is a lot of talk about bones and ghostly visions. From that point, darkness gathers, with repeated, increasingly cryptic references to the legacy of past generations. I won't tell you how it ends, partly because it might spoil it for you, partly because I didn't entirely understand it.”
  • Ian Shuttleworth in the Financial Times (four stars) – “At the climax of Act One, the inhabitants of the Pittsburgh rooming house where the play is set join in a “Juba”, part-celebration, part-religious ritual. Wilson’s script simply says this “should be as African as possible”, but Lan and choreographer Thea Nerissa Barnes have worked up an electrifying sequence that blends elements of tribalism, Pentecostal ecstasy and “field holler” blues. Lan also seems to have an intuitive understanding of the play’s concerns with diaspora and the search for identity. Here are people questing to own themselves. In 1911, legal slavery was still within living memory, and it is a mere three years since Herald Loomis (played by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) left the service of notorious, semi-mythical slavemaster Joe Turner, subject of the song that gives the play its title… This is a production that will stay with you for some time afterwards – and not only because it will take days to eradicate traces of the red earth with which designer Patrick Burnier has covered stage and auditorium floor.”
  • - Andrea Kleopa


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