Tour seen at the Connaught Theatre, Worthing.
What a treat this production is. A wonderful piece of theatre excellently written and beautifully delivered by the Headlong Theatre Company.
Set in Pittsburgh in the 1970’s the play shows us an example of what life would have been like working as an unlicensed taxi (Jitney) driver. It focuses on five drivers, Doub, Youngblood, Fielding, Turnbo and Becker who owns the business. Two regular customers, Sheealy and Philmore, Youngblood’s girlfriend Rena and Becker’s son Booster who has just been released from Jail. The drivers work in the areas of the community where licensed taxi drivers refuse to go in order to earn as much money as they possibly can and avoid paying taxes. Their lives, families and loves are explored giving the audience an insight into the struggles they face on a daily basis during this time when racial tensions are particularly high. As well as racism their struggles include PTSD following the Vietnam war, bereavement and poverty. And the threat of their Jitney rank being demolished is only adding to their problems. Relevant racist language is used throughout adding to the reality of the piece.
The staging is clever and extremely effective. A box set, which gives the appearance of being a cut out of a larger building, depicts the interior of the taxi cab rank. This is adorned with 70s era furniture and accessories which are suitably tired and run down with orange and brown hues typical of this decade. The box has a surround which is used to project black and white moving photography of Pittsburgh during this time. During scene changes the actors would move in slow motion along with the photography to depict the passing of time and this works really well with the mood of the play. The music and actors costumes all add to the overall effect and we are left in no doubt as to when this piece is set.
This is an extremely talented group of actors who work together beautifully. A wonderful ensemble piece and the interactions between all of the characters are engaging and excellently performed. The pace is fluid and the banter is fast and realistic. The characters are all very different and each actor made them totally believable. Their differing personalities were shown through the dynamics of the group and as well as tension and jealousy between some of them, warmth and compassion is also evident. There is a real sense of solidarity and the coming together of a community. Each character has their own story to tell and the monologues are performed beautifully. Though all of the speeches are excellently delivered Becker’s monologue during an argument with his son is a definite stand out. Until this point Becker has been the quiet, pondering, responsible character but he unleashes a raw, passionate and physical delivery which this talented actor built up to subtly. You could hear a pin drop in the theatre.
Even though the play focuses on some very serious and upsetting issues there are some lovely comedic moments which shine through. The relaxed, comfortable body language and laughter between the actors is a delight to watch. Light banter and funny one liners make us warm to these characters and we will them to succeed in their personal challenges. During a happier moment with the whole cast on stage, a very well choreographed funky dance sequence to a Bill Withers track is a highlight.
I would thoroughly recommend going to see this powerful production. Many of the issues featured are unfortunately very much still around today and this play is an excellent platform for raising awareness. I hope that this very talented company continue to produce great theatre.