Tag Archives: Gary Lilburn

“Trouble In Mind” at the National Theatre

Alice Childress’ 1955 play takes us behind the scenes of a Broadway show about racism in the American South. Focusing on the theatre, Trouble In Mind gets to the heart of issues about representation that are topical and important. And it does so with passion, intelligence and wit.

Childress’ anger isn’t hard to spot. There are difficult moments as the cast explores the play it is rehearsing. The story of one actor, who witnessed a lynching as a child, is incredibly powerful (Cyril Nri does this pivotal scene justice). Frustration with the play within the play – its skewered view of African American life – is compounded by the aggressions the performers face as they work with white colleagues, for a white audience.

The debate is nuanced even if Childress’ opinions are clear. Care is taken to make sure the show’s director character is no straw man. Objectionable, insufferable even, and a figure of fun, the performance from Rory Keenan makes sure we still take what he has to say seriously. Arguments about the compromises supposedly needed to get the show on stage are given space.

It is the humour in the show that makes it memorable. Trouble in Mind is a very funny play. All the hypocrisy could be painful but is brilliantly handled by both Childress and the production’s director Nancy Medina. Asides, verbal and physical, get laughs as well as provoking thought and showing tension. Naana Agyei-Ampadu’s performance as the formidable Millie is magnificent – a great character, superbly rendered.

Tanya Moodie’s performance in the lead role of Wiletta deserves the greatest praise. Having excelled in the role before, Moodie lives as much as performs the part. That’s an amazing achievement, given how the character flips from being a duplicitous old theatre hand to an exposed novice who wants to really act and do “something grand”.

The relationship with old and new colleagues (strong performances from Gary Lilburn and Daniel Adeosun, pictured) is a joy to watch. Wiletta is warm but steely, open yet suspicious, from one moment to the next. Moodie’s performance is one of the best I’ve seen – anytime and anywhere – and is a five-star experience that is not to be missed. 

Until 29 January 2022


Photo by Johan Persson

“The Hairy Ape” at the Southwark Playhouse

Eugene O’Neill’s play The Hairy Ape begins with a fleeting encounter between a grimy labourer and a spoilt rich girl who is appalled by a voyeuristic trip she takes into the boiler room of a ship. Vilified by the girl as sub-human and “a hairy ape”, our hero becomes haunted by the meeting, and goes mad in his quest for a sense of belonging and revenge. It’s a fairly slim idea for a play and O’Neill employs more passion than finesse in its writing – to the extent that one wonders why it has been revived at all.

It’s clear, though, that director Kate Budgen doesn’t have reservations about the work. Along with designer Jean Chan she embraces the challenges of the play’s various locations with intelligence and style. Budgen’s staging of the hot, violent situations, on the ship or in a prison, add to the drama superbly. The play’s finale, occurring none too subtly in a zoo, which might be read as unstageable, is a riveting moment of theatre.

Budgen also secures fine performances from her cast. There are minor issues with intelligibility from the polyglot crew of the ship but the fine line between camaraderie and competition is satisfyingly palpable. Taking the lead is Bill Ward who brings out the force of O’Neill’s poetry with a suitably virile interpretation. Also commendable are Gary Lilburn as one of his older shipmates and Mark Weinman who plays a socialist sailor keen to retell the men’s story as a class struggle. Weinman is skilled but, like much of The Hairy Ape, his character seems dated and predictable, no matter how strong the presentation itself might be.

Until 9 June 2012


Photo by Jane Hobson

Written 21 May 2012 for The London Magazine