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One Night in Miami...

5
Kemp Powers' play seen at the Bristol Old Vic.
By Robert Iles - 26th Jun 2019

What a wonderful new play this is - a real joy to watch, fascinating, clever, punchy and entertaining. 

In February 1964, the day Cassius Clay became world champion and just before he converted to Islam and became Mohammed Ali, there is a "party" in a downbeat Miami motel room. Malcolm X, Cassius, Sam Cooke and American football star Jim Brown meet to celebrate and talk about the future. As the flier says, "that much we know is true", the rest is speculation, but has a real ring of reality aout it!

These four very different people, each a succesful African American in a country determined still to do their race down, and each on the brink of a major change in direction and life, ponder the future. Meanwhile, outside, a hard-nosed guard and his enthusiastic young companion, keep tabs and emphasise the whiff of menace that underlies this play. That makes it sound a bit dry, it certainly is not! No lectures here, but naturalistic conversation between four friends as they push each other's buttons, argue, support each other and laugh. And in the case of Matt Henry (Sam Cooke) sing. Wonderfully. 

This lively and hugely watchable production has a lot to offer, and to make us think about. Mostly, we know the future of these great men (sorry Jim, 60s American footballers are not so well known over here!), we know that each did make a difference, in their own way and in their own fields, that in some way each would "change the world" - this small evening is all of that in a microcosm.

Great set, more versatile than it initially looks and a lovely stage for this production; one small niggle, why is Sam Cooke given an exit through the fourth wall of what has been a carefully crafted room convetion? Not enough to spoil the evening but a moment of genuine weirdness!

Matthew Xia's direction keep the pace up and gives us the light and shade of  the evening excellently - punctauted by some great singing as previously mentioned. Christopher Colquhoun's Malcolm X is a truly credible and very watchable performance which I very much enjoyed. Conor Glean gives us the young Cassius Clay, a tricky thing as we all have such strong memories of the real persion but a very professional performance. I have no idea what Jim Brown was like but Miles Yekinni's performance is excellent. Outside, the severe Kareem (Andre Squire) and puppy-dog Jamaal (Oseloka Obi) really do make the parts their own - outside the main story, and made up characters (I presume!), they come over as three dimensional, real people - cleverly written and played to provide the outside world foil to this motel room of change.

Brilliant. Shame it has such a short run here in Bristol.


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