Subversively amusing to the last, however alarming the plot becomes, The Long Road South is a most British sitcom in a most American setting. This occasionally is a little jarring: while Americans are (generally speaking) less subtle than the Brits, many of them are not, in my experience at least, quite so blunt as they are portrayed in this play.
All are larger-than-life characters, with Carol Ann (Imogen Stubbs) almost doing a stand-up routine as all sorts of groups of people are, in one way or another, the subject of her acerbic putdowns. This rather forthright approach is echoed in her daughter Ivy (Lydea Perkins), facetious in her own way. There’s Andre White (Cornelius Macarthy), who appears to have committed much of the King James Bible to memory, and his partner Grace Banks (Krissi Bohn). Both are about to finish their summer jobs in the employment of Jake Price (Michael Brandon). Price is the sort of man that has his parallel in Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman – there are many shared characteristics.
Paul Minx writes well for women in this play. It’s Grace that wears the trousers in her relationship, and while the same can’t quite be said for Carol Ann, the latter does get some of the best lines. The dialogue is hardly naturalistic but the dramatic effect is strong nonetheless, and more often than not it’s laugh-out-loud funny, despite the increasingly strained circumstances.
Some hard-hitting themes are dealt with deftly in a tour-de-force narrative, which had the potential to be something akin to a Tennessee Williams play. It isn’t all laughs-a-minute. Andre’s religious convictions are treated sympathetically in the play, with some unexpected (if dubious) results in dispute resolution, and interestingly it’s Grace who irritates with a preachy air about her, winding up even her fervent believer partner. A particular fight scene was choreographed in such a way that had me chuckling at a point in the plot where I shouldn’t even have had a smidge of a smirk, and there was a danger that the sheer amount of humour, whether bitter or sweet, could detract from more pressing matters at hand.
That said, there’s a lot packed into this production. It may prove a little too messy and unfocused for some – one gentleman told me afterwards that Grace repeatedly expressing a desire to get out was the one heightened emotion he had the most sympathy with! But I quite liked the way in which any trace of sentimentality or gooey emotion was slapped down by one character or another, keeping everyone with at least one foot on the floor.
As ever, it is sometimes other theatregoers who prove adept at succinctly describing their thoughts on a show more than I could. With the bluntness of Carol Ann and the bouncy joyousness of Ivy, one man adamantly deemed The Long Road South “f–king brilliant!” – high praise indeed. At the end of the day, it held my attention, and I was pleased to have seen this show.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Set in Indiana 1965 during the long, hot summer of the civil rights movement, the world and that of the Price family is about to change. Their two domestic workers, Grace and Andre, intend to collect their wages and head South to join the voting rights marches. And the Price family — Jake, Carol Ann and their teenage Lolita — are each determined to make them stay.
Laced with wit and bitter irony, The Long Road South tells the story of how a man is forced to confront his demons and go to the lengths of his being to find out who he is and get what’s rightly his.
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The play was cast by Kate Plantin CDG.
Starring Imogen Stubbs, Michael Brandon, Cornelius Macarthy, Krissi Bohn and Lydea Perkins
Written by Paul Minx
Directed by Sarah Berger
Set and costume design: Adrian Linford, Lighting design: Kevin James, Fight director: Lyndall Grant, Assistant director: Dave Spencer
Presented by King William Productions and the So and So Arts Club
12th to 30th January 2016