King’s Head Theatre, London – until 30 January 2016
Guest reviewer: Terry Eastham
The 31st August 1965 is not a really notable day in history. True, it is Independence Day in Trinidad and Tobago and is also the Saint’s Day for Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne, San Abbondio, Saint Raymond Nonnatus, but otherwise not that much to write home about. However, for the family at the centre of Paul Minx’s play The Long Road South at the King’s Head Theatre, Islington 08-31-65 is a day none of them will ever forget.
It is late afternoon and In a nice middle class house in Indiana, everyone has something to do. 15 year-old Ivy Price (Lydea Perkins) is on the patio and supposed to be practising her bible quotations for a competition the next day. However, Ivy is more interested in talking to, and flirting with, gardener/butler and all round runner of the house, Andre (Cornelius Macarthy).
Unfortunately, Andre has something else on his mind as tonight he and the maid – who is also his girlfriend – Grace (Krissi Bohn) are leaving the family and driving down to Alabama to join the civil rights movement and find Andre’s child from a previous relationship. Ivy’s mother Carol Ann (Imogen Stubbs) has her own work to do – after all, that rum doesn’t drink itself – in fact she has been so busy she has not had time to get dressed and wafts around in a nightdress throwing out orders and biting sarcasm in equal measure to her staff and daughter. The household is getting excited, as it’s nearly time for Mr Jake Price (Michael Brandon) to return home from work.
Dinner that night is tense to say the least. Ivy doesn’t want Andre to leave and is prepared to do almost anything to stop him going. Aspiring writer and civil rights activist Grace is finding it more difficult to maintain the required subservient demeanour with the family. Andre is preparing to have an awkward conversation with Mr Price who, for his part, has a secret burning a hole inside of him. Only Carol Ann seems to be without a form of agenda at dinner as she ensures her glass never gets empty.
Production Photos (c) Truan Munro
What to say about The Long Road South? There have been a lot of plays and films written about American families who had black staff during the start of the civil rights campaign but I found this one really compelling to watch. Part of this I think was the staging – Director Sarah Berger uses a thrust staging to ensure the audience is firmly attached to the action – but the rest comes down to some superb acting and a pretty fine script. Michael Brandon and Imogen Stubbs bring their wealth of theatrical experience to give Carol Ann and Jake life and both characters have a nicely written hidden side to them that comes out unexpectedly late in the play. Having singled these two out, the rest of the cast deliver equally good performances, especially Cornelius Macarthy who plays Andre as a very determined man who is in some ways divided by his devotion and respect for the family and the reality that the world for people like him is on the cusp of changing for ever.
Production Photos (c) Truan Munro
Having the action settled on one family and taking place over one even really concentrated the story nicely. I really enjoyed the writing not only for the wonderful one-liners such as “I don’t drink…I imbibe” but also for the way that the for want of a better word ‘masters’ talk to the staff. Even Ivy, who claims to be in love with Andre, is happy to speak down to him – almost ordering the poor man to fall in love with her – in the way of ruler and ruled. My one quibble would be that there may at times have been too many stories going on meaning that what i had perceived as the central theme was dilated by the end.
However, all in all, The Long Road South was a quite fascinating play that held my attention throughout and gave me more of an insight into the thinking and behaviour of the people about to get swept up into the civil rights movement and its effects on the history of the world and direction of the future.
The Long Road South – King’s Head Theatre until 30th January 2016
Review by Terry Eastham