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Review: WEDDING BAND, Lyric Hammersmith

Review: WEDDING BAND, Lyric HammersmithInterracial marriage has been legal in the United States for less than sixty years. To put it in perspective, sliced ​​bread was first sold forty years earlier. Set in 1918 South Carolina, Wedding ring is a thrilling portrayal of unjust laws and discrimination, of conscious and unconscious prejudices, of finding love within hopeless prejudices. Alice Childress’s American classic describes a Deep South full of hatred and stigma, an image that is uncomfortably close to the views of a certain party and that is unfortunately still relevant sixty years after its premiere and more than a century after its setting. A white baker and a black seamstress try to defy public opinion in this gloomy drama.

It is a surprising piece of theatre. A smoother, somehow sweeter Tennessee Williams, while poignant in subject and story, it is secretly humorous. Monique Touko directs the first major modern-paced British revival. She anchors the material in context, points to it with flair, and elevates it into a cautionary tale about a past that might be our future. It sparks an intense conversation about interracial racism and white supremacy. Julia hates Herman’s underhanded comments to ‘her people’, while he unknowingly strings her along instead of taking action.

He blames everything but himself and the system, calling Julia “not like the others.” When Julia moves to another lodging, the women she meets are just as suspicious and wary of her boyfriend, but it all starts when we meet Herman’s family later. His mother’s spiteful, unapologetic cruelty is hard to watch. Let it serve as a reminder that crowds outside the liberal theater scene still lean that way. “I’d rather be dead than disgraced,” says the good Christian who is willing to let her son die of the flu rather than call a doctor to a black neighborhood. It is much.

Childress’s genius lies in her beautiful weaving of the character arcs. Much of Act One is devoted to building Julia’s environment. She introduces her landlady Fanny, who ruthlessly encounters Lula’s tough young son Nelson (Patrick Martins), an army man whose mother struggles with his role in the security of a nation that hates him. Then there’s Mattie (Bethan Mary-James) and her daughter Teeta, the former a wave of restless hope and the latter a stark example of disadvantage.

Each of these women feels real and complex, perhaps even more defined than the main character. Deborah Ayorinde delivers a powerhouse performance. Reserved and controlled at first, she blossoms into fierce energy in the second act confrontation with Herman’s mother. It marks another sharply executed turn in her portrayal, making her debut a remarkable achievement. She is accompanied by actors of equal ability, regardless of the size of their role. Diveen Henry, like Lula, is a queen of physical language: all she needs is a tilt of her head to shake the stage.

The play reaches its boiling point right at the end of the first act, before bubbling over and exploding in the second act. Poppy Gilbert steals the show as the demure, spiteful and haughty Annabelle. She is the product of her social environment. After all, Herman’s sister was taught by the gruesome example of her gruesome mother Thelma, Geraldine Alexander in glorious, terrifying form. Herman blames his mother’s shortcomings on ignorance, but the mention of the Ku Klux Klan is not necessary to convince us that it is not just oblivion. David Walmsley completed the main cast as Herman. Commanding and sturdy, he is exceptionally white-male in his bravado.

Touko makes a decisive aesthetic choice and plays with shades that reflect the sweltering heat of summer in the southern states. A good dose of fan waving from the ladies is combined with the earth tones and figurative segregation of Paul Wills’ designs. Chicken wire fencing cages the actors in the different rooms, immediately creating a visual vocabulary for the play. Elena Peña moves the action from room to room with light sound effects, while Shiloh Coke writes a solid score that involves many scene changes.

Touko takes Childress’s tight, lean dialogue and arranges it with coherence and precise artistic vision. The only weakness, if we can call it that, in an otherwise solid production is the ending, which doesn’t quite fit into the generally discernible language. Although it reflects Julia’s chaotic state of mind, it comes across as very abstract, while the rest is largely practical. As we wind down to a bitter denouement, the company removes the set and virtually nothing remains. The allegory completely changes the tone, twists the style and takes it out of directness. It may be a slightly baffling moment, but it leaves the audience with an excellent final image. All in all, it remains a successful, overtly political project that should be on everyone’s radar.

Wedding Band: A Love Hate Story in Black and White is at the Lyric Hammersmith until June 29.

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