The Scottsboro Boys, The Garrick Theatre, London. October 2014.
After a visit to a challenging art exhibition Rebecca and I continued our day to see a musical - not a genre of theatre we see an awful lot.
We hadn't picked a light-hearted musical either as the Scottsboro Boys tells the story of 9 young black men arrested and imprisoned in Alabama after being falsely accused of raping two while women on a train. At the first trial the young men are sentenced to death but this is overturned and the trial considered not to be legal. Over the next years the trial repeatedly comes back to court and the same verdict is given - even after one of the women admits to having lied.
A truly shocking story by any account.
However this production is even more uncomfortable as it is staged as a minstrel show with the Scottsboro Boys being run by an old white man. It is hard to explain just how well this works and just how uncomfortable it is whilst at the same time being as fantastic as I found it. The bit that unsettled me the most was when the black actors themselves appeared in the 'black-face' of the minstrel show but then even this was subverted and reclaimed...
The actors/dancers/singers are all on stage nearly all of the time, many of them play two or three roles and the only scenery is some chairs and a couple of planks of wood and yet I was there in 1930s Alabama with them throughout.
At times the story is a little badly paced and as the characters aren't individually named at the start it takes a little while to work out who is who. Right up until the last scene I was also very unhappy with the way the one woman in the cast was used but this all becomes clear in one of the best twists I've seen.
I didn't come out singing any of the songs and even now, a week on, I feel deeply unsettled by what I saw and am struggling to put a review into any form of coherency yet I'd happily go and see this again and have been recommending it to all and sundry. Sometimes you can like a production despite everything, and it is good for me to be jolted out of my comfort zone.