King’s Head Theatre, London – until 30 January 2016
Stay at home Carol Ann (Imogen Stubbs)is mother to teenager Ivy (Lydea Perkins) and married to supermarket manager Jake (Michael Brandon – pictured). They are the only family in their neighbourhood able to afford “help”, black couple Grace (Krissi Bohn) and Andre (Cornelius Macarthy). On the surface, these characters are aspirational and progressive. That American Dream veneer doesn’t hold up for long, though. The characters’ gangrenous innards seep out, creating a kitchen sink drama with excellent moments, dramatic themes and characterisation akin to Miller and Williams, but lacks the linguistic sophistication of these revolutionary writers and a few too many twists and turns for a one-act play.
The cast is generally strong, with Brandon outshining the rest when he eventually appears in Willy Loman-esque glory. Perkins has a grating vocal quality that, though appropriate to the lying, manipulative character, was nails on a blackboard after a few scenes. Bohn and Macarthy are good foils to each other with a lovely chemistry and sharp edges that sporadically pop out, adding to the dissonance. Stubbs is the tragic heroine, trapped in her house by alcoholism and the memory of an institutionalised child. This lot are a close-knit ensemble, an extended family with all the complexity of a real life one. Unfortunately, the accents spanned the country rather than uniting this family in a common place.
Director Sarah Berger skilfully uses the irregular playing space and space to enhance tension. Rarely touching or even close to each other, this shows the power of religious belief in these characters constantly aware of Satan’s temptations. Adrian Linford’s sunny back garden with its perfectly mowed grass and pastel BBQ juxtaposes the family’s chaos. Minx has an instinct for conflict, but the production’s subtlety comes from the performances rather than the dialogue. There’s no overt moralising or thickly laid Americanisms, just the characters’ genuine need to do what they think is right.
The Long Road South is a quite the good script by a writer with plenty of promise and a great cast. It’s a good reminder of a crucial period of American history, and that monumental change can wreak havoc on the closest of family units. The cast and the characters’ individual stories are certainly the best features here, but the other production elements aren’t far behind.
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