Tag Archives: Aimee Powell

“The Lonely Londoners” at the Jermyn Street Theatre

Roy Williams’ excellent adaptation of Sam Selvon’s novel about the Windrush Generation is brought to the stage with style by director Ebenezer Bamgboye. A collection of memorable characters and moving stories are depicted with care and passion by a talented cast.

Driving the action is Moses, known as “Mr. London”, who helps out new arrivals to the city. Gamba Cole takes the role with plenty of charisma while his character’s moving backstory is revealed with skill. Moses is joined by Galahad, Big City and Lewis – with strong performances from Romario Simpson, Gilbert Kyem Jnr and Tobi Bakare respectively. Each character is beautifully realised and interesting.

The problems the men encounter are many but Williams makes sure none of them feel underexplored. The racism they face, the isolation and rage it creates, is painful. All four brim with frustration, ready to snap at any moment. But broader ramifications are also clear: depression, poverty, the potential for crime, and toxic masculinity. The men are presented with a collection of objects – gun, dagger, and hip flask – the tension Bamgbye generates around these is fantastic. And there’s no idealizing the men or the story. Moses’ assessment that they are lonely but not alone is consolation but doesn’t generate false hopes.

It’s a shame the women in the piece have poorer roles. Moses is haunted by Christina, the love he left behind. Lewis’ mother and wife arrive in London but start too comedic and then come dangerously close to exemplars of how to adjust to a new life. Thankfully brilliant performances save the roles: Shannon Hayes and Carol Moses have tears in their eyes in their key scene – powerful, impressive acting.

For all Williams’ skill and the importance of the history, it is the staging rather than the stories that make the production stand out. There’s Elliot Griggs’s bold lighting design for a start, a model of effective simplicity that works brilliantly in scenes of violence. Aimee Powell’s gorgeous singing as Christina weaves throughout the show, part lament but also encouragement. Stirring choreography deserves final praise. Extended sequences that use movement, directed by Nevena Stojkov, are mesmerizing. Illustrating affection and aggression in equal measure, showing, by turns, a sense of loss and anger, brings home the complexity of these lives.

Until 6 April 2024


“Freeman” at the Pleasance Theatre

Mental health and criminal justice are big topics. Add racism, then try to explore the links between all three, and any endeavour risks overreaching itself. To avoid this danger, the intelligent approach from the Strictly Arts Theatre company is a documentary one that benefits from unwavering intensity. Freeman presents facts – painful and disturbing – in a furious fashion.

The show’s ambition is all the more remarkable given that it takes in 200 years of history. Centring on the story of the first African American who pled insanity for a crime, we see cases where the care of those suffering from mental illness is exacerbated by racism right up to the present day. Presentation is the key, tightly controlled by director Danièle Sander and executed with conviction by an amazing cast. The text, devised with writer Camilla Whitehill, is full of calm moments, contrasting with a physicality that is often frightening. There’s a lot of dance – movement encapsulates violence and death – with clever lighting and subtle projections.

Williams Freeman, who gives the play its title, was a 19th-century slave who was wrongfully imprisoned and beaten so badly in jail it brain damaged him. Corey Campbell takes the part with skill, retaining sympathy despite the horrific, literally insane, revenge Freeman took on an innocent family. Freeman’s defence argument was based on the Daniel M’naghten rules, and the point is made that such a consideration was offered to a white man first. Taking on the M’naghten role alongside that of Freeman’s lawyer (and various other racists) gives Pip Barclay the chance to shine.

Acting as a litany for six tragic figures, with each story the whole cast responds as a team, playing smaller parts or using their bodies as props. It seems important to name the other four, too. The story of Sandra Bland is performed by Kimisha Lewis, who conveys the escalating situation of an arrest marvellously. And Michael Bailey, David Oluwale and Sarah Reed form a trio of British sufferers of poor mental health, each portrayed with finesse as well as passion by Keiren Amos, Marcel White and Aimee Powell. If there’s a fault, these other stories aren’t given enough time. The show comes in at under an hour, while each could justify a whole play. More detail is often called for. Freeman is effective, moving and informative, but it would be good if there were more of it.

Until 21 October 2018


Photo by Richard Kiely