Trouble in Mind, Ustinov Studio, Bath Theatre Royal

9b36urhtlmo7cnivvv8w5en8gt0b4-6d0awhtouen-oijcgt5yeyus3fndpsot33jr381qfdk6sunpthowszsw6dd4ucuaxiqw_yobxenos2kfgzmearsryuesofijjpo8yhsdp8chviyol5yimlf63q5qadiiwukryocixravz8RECENTLY returning from an Amer­ica in chaos, where many are openly discussing the current situation as a seismic event as powerful as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Alice Childress’s mid 50s play Trouble in Mind is a bitter reminder of how little has changed.

Whatever our political leanings, it seems incredible that a country as vast, diverse and rich as the USA could have ended up with a straight choice between a woman toting heavy political and sexual baggage and a man with a background of litigious murk and reality television and a dangerously unpredictable temper.

qd8-x3_3c7trzlqkn95qbuendv35ojkmmxk_prc_ixc7cmebvxhei9dxuy4ryc7tmmwzqse7o4uonf7zugkvecr2l6y-rr85acibsnye-9whjw7zft8_l64zt4tszxrh8There are many who say that racism is so deeply ingrained in the country that the eight years of Obama presidency forced a right-wing man onto the country. Many are also “blaming” Brexit for allowing what at first seemed like a sick joke to become a terrifying reality.

Trouble in Mind was the show that brought fame for Wiletta Mayer.  Now, many years on, she is determined to move from gospel-singing  “mammy” roles to serious acting, and maybe, just maybe, the new play she’s rehearsing will be her stepping stone.

Experience has taught her that no matter how much white directors and actors profess their belief in total equality, the reality is different. There are the backers to consider, the audiences, the critics …

lpwua3i-ox0eigzbiubos18nsvczj4vjkudw9s7urcip2i4js_x0cw7j3qj0idltag5xcmso5ung9m8wlpsn_8a3evm-wxcip7a2qa2plcyoe4sulncfqzoa-xah4j9aeesec87vp_1zxkg1b1rjhpplnmvw4hdlprwezckxvynmSo when director Al asks for “truth” he’s not ready for any truth other than his own preconceptions. Wiletta forces his hand, and the results are catastrophic.

Little could Ustinov Studio director Laurence Boswell and his star Tanya Moodie have suspected that the opening of this play in Bath could be so powerfully apposite when they chose it late in 2015.

Set backstage in a New York theatre,  four black and two white actors are rehearsing a salutary tale of lynching in the deep South (far away from the supposedly more liberal streets of Manhattan). The idea, apparently, is to persuade the audience that violence is not the answer to the country’s social problems.

Sixty years on, in the 21st century, what we now know as “hate crimes” can range from swearing at anyone from any minority to that old southern staple, lynching. We might have hoped we had moved on.

nqzykgafuc5cjdl-yr3ekgatp5wi7qfaycbrcpjn4bkajweiouhfmbur9ey7pzfw0kboy09r2vdmccyq0voaqgqszlwbfeyrrsb5r2d0kiu6yq1i-psgj5twmv5684og4ydrfzqyhevtumtwr0rut_sdi1gax-d-p3o57trh7ll8Tanya Moodie was last at the Ustinov in the unforgettable Intimate Apparel. When she found Childress’s play, she approached Boswell to bring it to the Bath studio theatre. It brilliantly illustrates that everyone is different and everyone is the same.

Director Al, distanced from his son by a grasping ex-wife, wants his new play to open on Broadway and change the world. But he hasn’t noticed that the black characters as written are as stereotypical as in all its predecessors.

The actors, on the other hand, have very separate agendas. Wiletta wants artistic credibility. Young John (Daniel Ezra in an impressive professional stage debut) ambitiously sets his eyes on Hollywood, Millie, with her wealthy husband, wants a more glamorous role on stage, and old stager Sheldon (a brilliant Joseph Marcell) is as racist as the next man.

s-0eo8qpqnt1om9dnu7vn-cgx0ohdws5rmdpozflx1uqq4np79-ioic_kfoungjnutusshslb8y9vyu16xgybw__7mjaqc2v_z1z8msh5kxjgasww3advowissygpnbn4jjy-mdvbqr_vr6xr7crznytxyt2blwtcno0lhugx32mPrivileged Yale graduate Judy (Emily Barber) has her first professional acting job and Bill, playing the good ol’ boy who heads the family, just wants peace and quiet to continue his passively racist life. Young Eddie takes the tightrope between director and company.

And there is a delightful performance by Pip Donaghy as the almost octogenarian Irish doorkeeper, star-struck, kindly and accustomed to prejudice of his own.

Jonathan Cullen’s director Al Manners is the most complex character, and one who is open to a variety of interpretations. Boswell opts for confusion, forcing his audience to think and take sides.

g1kmryflqirfm75lrzgiwuqaovddfh7q763hm_ccwe4oqgtz4bhr4gqhgzzq5up20puggv7o1wltiq-8outhdsig-bgd9es1rwgj6liymwkuemckqv1crhbjyfeo5spqygihck_h4dxmhye_awakjzcu1pbozd-td8yhqzusypouMoodie is once again magnificent, hiding the nerves and nuances under a life’s practice of big gesture and dated poses – that’s what Wiletta thinks they want.  The denouement is shattering, and all the more so in this tense time.


Trouble in Mind is on at the Ustinov until 17th December.

Photographs by Simon Annand

Posted in Reviews on .