Mercury Theatre, Colchester – until 30 March 2019, then at Southwark Playhouse 19 April-1 June 2019
So dress up sassy, shake your chassis, get some mesh on your flesh like the ladies who sing with the band. Sell your vocals to the yokels, get cash for your trash!
Tamasha’s romp through the great Fats Waller’s songbook is a two-hour treat, with a reeling, rocking cast of five and a joyful five-piece combo. Huggin’, jitterbuggin’, they get the joint jumping with the defiant appeal of the downtrodden: the 1920s and 30s explosion of black jazz defiance clothed as irresistible entertainment for all. It’s the music which helped make the Afro-American black experience resonate so strongly for generations, and to this day inspires the African diaspora across the world.
“The music is the star” in Richard Maltby’s creation, says Tamasha’s debutant-director Tyrone Huntley (more familiar onstage himself in Superstar, Memphis etc). There is sparse dialogue and no ongoing plot, more a stream of consciousness. It is played out in a Harlem club of extreme glitter, gold staircase and shiny floor, but sometimes suggesting the hard pavements outside, where a man alone dreams of a reefer five foot long, “king of everything before I swing”.
Once there’s an uptown foray to the Waldorf – “Don’t rock, they love jazz but in small doses, don’t shock, don’t sing loud, muffle the drums, you’ll do swell with the swells.” The bass throbs, the piano sparkles, trumpet, sax and clarinet soar in triumph or mourn in melancholy. The songs yearn, woo, bicker, rejoice, and sell. Once, the staid Colchester audience is defied to join in with the shout “Fat and greasy, a fat and greasy fool!” and does, mesmerised.
The choreography, new, is by Oti Mabuse; Adrien Hansel and Wayne Robinson are the men, smart and cool and agile. The women are all stunning in different idiosyncratic ways: Renee Lamb (SIX’s original Catherine of Aragon) big and powerfully gorgeous, Carly Mercedes Dyer the athletic jitterbug-queen, spiky and cheeky, Landi Oshinowo provocative and wild.
The energy of them all is exhausting, gold heels flashing, tireless. In the second half particularly the songs become more pointed, poignant: the quieter moment when all five ask “What did I do to be so black and blue?” pierces the heart. More of a gig than a play but, who needs an actual story when the whole defiant, struggling story of the black journey to freedom swirls around us still?
Box Office: 01206 573948 / www.mercurytheatre.co.uk to 30 March
FRIDAY 19 APRIL – SATURDAY 1 JUNE 2019 SOUTHWARK PLAYHOUSE
020 7407 0234 / www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk