Tag Archives: Tanya Moodie

“Trouble in Mind” at the Print Room

The advice is always to write about what you know. So it would have made sense in 1955 for African-American actress Alice Childress to set her play around the staging of a play – and to make both of them about race relations. Turns out that Childress knew plenty: creating a well-crafted text that ensures this exceptional production from Bath feels fresh, with a role for a leading lady that’s a dream.

The rehearsal scenario, expertly handled, is a great device, from which director Laurence Boswell generates tension and humour. It makes the play accessible and feel startlingly modern. As the black cast members debate the depiction of sharecroppers in the South, racism, art and the connections between the two are brought into focus. The pivot for all is character actress Wiletta and a star performance from Tanya Moodie.

Wiletta acts all the time. As she explains to a young colleague (great work from Ncuti Gatwa), you have to perform for the white crew and cast members even behind the scenes. This divide with the WASPs who run things creates fine performances from Daisy Boulton, as an idealist ingénue, and Jonathan Slinger, who tackles the fraught role of a tyrannical self-righteous director with characteristic gusto.

Then there’s Wiletta’s real acting. First, that engendered from the poorly written roles she suffers from – providing the clichés that the (white) audience wants. After this come glimpses of how she would really articulate the role. And, of course, the struggle between the two. With fascinating but perilously difficult layer upon layer, Moodie never gets lost and takes the audience with her. It bears repeating that she is stunning.

The racism in the piece is painful to watch. It leads to a remarkable monologue for Ewart James Walters as the eldest member of the cast recalling a real-life lynching. Yet it’s Childress’s use of humour that impresses most – adding an uncomfortable edge through the theatrical buzzwords of “relating to” and “justifying” a character’s motivation. The dissonance created between the real issues and their depiction on stage allows Moodie to show a “fighting mad” spirit, making the play burst out of its theatrical world to engage with real issues in a “militant” fashion.

Until 14 October 2017

www.the-print-room.org

Photo by Hugo Glendinning

“Intimate Apparel” at the Park Theatre

Arriving from the Ustinov Studio, part of Theatre Royal Bath, Intimate Apparel opened in London at Park Theatre last night. Written by Lynn Nottage, famed for the unforgettable Ruined, it is a stirring tale about Esther, a seamstress in New York at the beginning of the twentieth century. Inspired by the author’s own ancestors, Esther’s is the kind of life that is often forgotten and unrecorded. Through Nottage’s skillful writing, it becomes a magically powerful imagined history.

Esther, a bravura performance from Tanya Moodie, makes lingerie, the intimate apparel of the title, and is a successful independent woman. She mixes in different worlds: her clients – a frustrated Fifth Avenue wife and a prostitute, both well acted by Sara Topham and Rochelle Neil respectively – and her supplier, the Orthodox Jew Mr Marks (Ilan Goodman), with whom she shares a passion for fine materials.

The play’s construction is sturdy. Director Laurence Boswell does it justice and the ingenious design by Mark Bailey is commendable, revealing different locations like a doll’s house and appropriately relying on fabric to bolt the piece together. This is a great story, well told, with fulsome characters.

It’s the romance that really shows Nottage’s ability. While Esther’s heart belongs to Mr Marks, she embarks on an epistolary romance with George Armstrong, a worker on the Panama Canal. Esther’s customers act like Cyrano de Bergerac: because she is illiterate, they write for her, and her heart is easily won by George. Another fine performance here, from Chu Omambala, who speaks with a carefully reconstructed Caribbean accent.

Esther wins your heart with her decency and modesty. She describes herself as “plain as flour” and combines a gushing innocence with underlying sensuality. It seems a touch cruel of Nottage to develop Intimate Apparel in a way that will disappoint romantics. But the story here is powerful – there were gasps at the twists last night – and Esther’s character provides a thread strong enough to hold the piece together exquisitely.

Until 27 July 2014

www.parktheatre.co.uk

Photo by Simon Annand

Written 10 July 2014 for The London Magazine

“Fences” at the Duchess Theatre

A new production of August Wilson’s play Fences opened at the Duchess Theatre last night following a successful run in Bath that has already earned it strong reviews. A family drama, set in Pittsburgh in 1957, it focuses on the patriarch Troy Maxson, a fascinating creation, depicted by Lenny Henry in a performance that is not to be missed.

Now well established as a serious actor, Henry gives a thoughtful, hard-working performance that plumbs the depths of this unsympathetic character. Troy is almost a tyrant, sometimes despicable, but his determination to turn his life around after time in jail, and awareness of his responsibilities makes you grudgingly respect him. Henry brings out the man’s vulnerability, and deals superbly with Wilson’s wry humour – Troy is charismatic and imminently watchable.

Troy is also an ordinary, working class, man. His struggles and aspirations provide the insight into African-American experience Wilson dedicated his work to. A talented sportsman who feels racism prevented his career, Troy is a disciplinarian driven by disappointment. Relations with his sons (played admirably by Peter Bankolé and Ashley Zhangazha) are on a knife-edge. More complex still is that with his disabled brother, a veteran with religious delusions, an enigmatic part played with conviction by Ako Mitchel.

Wilson’s play feels strangely timeless. It was written in 1983 yet sits well alongside Miller, even O’Neill; all three American greats wrote works that are hefty, lengthy and never afraid of metaphors. Although director Paulette Randall could pick up the pace at times, the production is a quality affair with a serious tone that earns respect.

The heart of the play is strong enough to keep it very much alive, embodied by the role of Troy’s wife, Rose. In this part Tanya Moodie gives a tremendous performance, formidable yet bowed by Troy’s force, Rose’s plight and passion are truly moving. As her husband’s legacy is examined in the final act, it’s Rose you really want to hear from. Wilson leaves you wanting more – a sure sign of success.

Until 14 September 2013

www.nimaxtheatres.com

Photo by Nobby Clark

Written 27 June 2013 for The London Magazine