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Theatre503 presents

 

David Harewood as Martin Luther King in

 

The Mountaintop

 

by Katori Hall, directed by James Dacre

 

Theatre503

 

9th June – 4th July 09

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ry Couzens

A review by David Hermann for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

Last night I had one of the most intense and effortlessly enjoyable theatre experiences ever, and instead of wasting your time reading this review you should go and book yourself a ticket. Still reading? Good, because here’s an interesting fact: Mysteriously, the life of one of history’s greatest civil rights activists has inspired more sober biographies than you can shake a firmly clenched black panther salute at - and of course the 1978 movie - but not a single professional stage-dramatisation.

Finally then, Katori Hall, a budding playwright with the right mixture of cultural identification and historical distance has applied her abundant talent to carving a light but deeply affecting picture of the last hours of Dr. Martin Luther King, and she has struck a goldmine.

Hall endows King with the gravitas of a man who is fully alive to his iconic status but also wallows with boyish glee in the odour of his feet, the taste of lukewarm filter coffee and the smoke of a fresh Pall Mall. In a few simple steps she adjusts our image of the Nobel Prize-winning peace paragon into that of an exceptional  human being with a passionate cause.

Hall’s dense, fast-paced dualogue is honoured to the fullest by magnifiecent Birmingham actors Lorraine Burroughs and David Harewood, whose record of consistently stunning performances has been available to British TV audiences for a long time - a fact which renders their apparent mastery of a black Memphis drawl and general African American accent (resepctively) not much of a surprise but nonetheless truly remarkable. The acting work I witnessed last night was in fact so immaculate as to simultaneously hide and highlight the play’s only major flaw. In the hands of lesser craftspeople than Burroughs and Harewood this courageous piece could easily descend into farce. I know I should go into the plot here to back myself up a little, but in this case it really would be a spoiler and I want you to see it for yourself. Let’s just say that an extreme twist about half way through the action will put almost any audience’s willingness to suspend disbelief under severe strain. Alright, I’ll drop you a hint: phone-conversation with God. The more secularly-minded among us will mourn Hall’s abandonment of the noble civil rights-strand in favour of an ever so squishy spiritualism. And don’t you dare assume that this is little white me failing to understand an African American concept of ‘soul’ or somesuch. Really, I get it - but this play’s final hook into the damp semi-rough of sentimental Christianity is such a pity because it weakens the impact of the tragedy of King’s impending assassination. Here is a truly triumphant life cut down with immediate effect, permanently snuffed out, irreversibly terminated in a crude act of cowardly hatred - not an ultimately helpless little soul spirited away into the soothing spheres of a dignified realm eternal. While the ending may afford comfort to those who choose to believe in an afterlife it distracts from the social tragedy and mitigates the cathartic indignation we should take away from the theatre and use to sharpen our moral sensibility. Opium for the people? Take another hit.

Katori Hall’s choice of philosophy, however, never weakens her immensely powerful, melodic and precise vocabulary, which spellbinds from start to finish and is an indicator of great things to come.  

This wholesome production is lifted to the great hights of professional theatre by its spotless, humble, and yet intricate design and sensitive direction. Sharing in the roaring applause and standing ovation the likes of which I cannot remember ever having witnessed in such a small auditorium are directors James Dacre and Tenkie van de Sluijs, set- and costume designer Libby Watson, video artist Dick Straker and a host of others - look, just grab yourself a programme and keep it, because the involvement of these people ensures quality.

The Mountaintop is one of the most exciting shows on in London at the moment. Do yourself a favour and see it.

 

Tickets: £13/ £8 conc. (Tuesday 'pay what you can')

Times: Tuesday-Saturday 7.45pm, Sunday 5pm.

Box Office: 020 7978 7040

www.theatre503.com

Theatre503
The Latchmere Pub
503 Battersea Park Road
London SW11 3BW
Nearest Tube: Sloane Square then bus 319 or South Kensington then bus 49 or 345
Nearest Rail: Clapham Junction (from Victoria or Waterloo) then 10min walk or bus 49, 319, 344, 345

 

 

 

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