Home » London Theatre Reviews » Rasheeda Speaking by Joel Drake Johnson at Trafalgar Studios | Review

Rasheeda Speaking by Joel Drake Johnson at Trafalgar Studios | Review

Bo Poraj and Elizabeth Berrington (Photo by Mitzi de Margary)
Bo Poraj and Elizabeth Berrington (Photo by Mitzi de Margary)

Plays have come under fire for being particularly ‘preachy’ recently. There are apparently ‘too many voices’ saying the same thing in this ‘woke’ era and productions can sometimes not get the balance of ‘the message’ and ‘the entertainment’ correct thus putting off audiences or boring them.

First off, I cannot disagree more. Plays, particularly good ones, have always got a message to give. Be they political, ethical, historical or emotional. Secondly, Rasheeda Speaking is a great example of a modern play that has found that balance – even though I wouldn’t consider that balance rare to find.

Rasheeda Speaking brings work politics and relationships into examination. In present-day Chicago, we meet newly appointed ‘Office Manager’ Ileen (Elizabeth Berrington) dealing with the return of her colleague Jaclyn (Tanya Moodie) after being instructed by her boss Dr. William (Bo Poraj) to keep an eye on Jaclyn’s work and note anything that will help for Jaclyn’s wished dismissal. Ileen likes Jaclyn but is convinced by Dr. Williams that this job is not a good fit for her.

This play examines the manipulation of others with words, actions and how our post-racial climate may not be as well evolved as we would like to think. The characters are well written and diverse enough to be instantly relatable to a wide audience – we all know a manipulative boss or a colleague we could consider to be rude or a pushover, etc.

We’ve all experienced the anxiety and worry that work politics can play and Joel Drake Johnson’s script shows us the wheels turning and the intensity growing as the play progresses. The company is strong and have been well cast – Moodie’s Jaclyn grows more likeable with every scene as the story unfolds. She is layered, complex and the most interesting of all the characters holding the heart of the story. Poraj portrays a relatable ‘villain’ and Shelia Reid plays frequent patient Rose Saunders, who is always able to add that slightly-silly comic relief to scenes where the tension is rising.

Finally, Berrington’s Ileen is spot-on and masterfully portrayed. Her journey of the office worker under pressure from her boss and her colleague whilst still trying to hold her own is perfectly pitched. Jonathan Boyle’s direction along with Anna Reid’s stage design are both subtle and intricate but also work fantastically.

Rasheeda Speaking is able to wake up audiences who thought they may already be. A show which demonstrates the treatment of minorities in the workplace may be something we don’t think we need anymore – but that is not the case. This show is funny, relatable and above everything else, one of the more relevant things currently on stage in London. Going back to the start, this is a great example of a modern play. Entertaining? It is. Eye-opening? It is. Preachy? It most definitely isn’t.

4 stars

Review by Tomm Ingram

In one of Chicago’s wealthiest hospitals, a white doctor tries to remove a black receptionist by enlisting her colleague as a spy. The women’s friendship quickly deteriorates and a chilling power struggle ensues. With the office becoming a battleground of passive aggression and paranoia, things spin wildly out of control.

Joel Drake Johnson’s incendiary new play examines underlying racism in the workplace, white guilt and the manipulation of women by men in power. Rasheeda Speaking is a shocking dark comedy that keeps you in its claustrophobic grip until the final moment, proving that nothing in Middle America is ever truly black or white.

Tanya Moodie (Trouble in Mind) and Elizabeth Berrington (Absent Friends) lead a star cast in the UK Premiere of Joel Drake Johnson’s tense workplace drama Rasheeda Speaking, also featuring Bo Poraj (Miranda) and Sheila Reid (Benidorm).

Directed by Jonathan O’Boyle (Hair, Dear Brutus) and produced by Troupe (Dear Brutus, The Cardinal – The Telegraph Critics’ Choice), who make their debut at Trafalgar Studios.

Rasheeda Speaking
Booking to 12th May 2018
Running Time: 90 Minutes (No Interval)
Trafalgar Studios

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