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Slave Play – Noel Coward Theatre | Review

Slave Play at the Noel Coward Theatre is witty, surprising and intelligent. The playwright, Jeremy O. Harris, said he thought up the title before writing it however this is not an evening of unremitting violence to be endured. Instead, from the beginning, comedy and music are harnessed by the director, Robert O’Hara, to connect with the show’s audience who soon relax and enjoy themselves. (Provided they’re not shocked by the sexuality). It is in this way the show embarks on a provocative exploration of the legacy of historic slavery on contemporary individuals and their intimate relationships.

Irene Sofia Lucio, Fisayo Akinade, Chalia La Tour and James Cusati-Moyer in Slave Play © Helen Murray.
Irene Sofia Lucio, Fisayo Akinade, Chalia La Tour and James Cusati-Moyer in Slave Play © Helen Murray.

There are three modern biracial couples who have agreed to undergo group sexual therapy for their relationship difficulties, no longer being able to find pleasure in one another. The relationship therapy on which they have embarked has been devised by another biracial couple of therapists and includes sexually explicit role-playing of power-disordered slave fantasies as if in a jolly fairground of fun. Creating a trap in this way for protagonists and audience alike to tumble into.

The cast is terrific. Olivia Washington is luminous and extraordinary in the deployment of her powers on stage and Fisayo Akinade communicates an understanding of his character and situation that is moving and rare. James Cusatt-Moyer meanwhile has perfect comedic timing. (Being a white liberal is not going to get anyone off the hook in this show. It’s time to learn.)

Kit Harington as Jim displays substantial dramatic range. No TV fluke is he. Instead, Mr Harington is supreme in his depiction of vulnerability and utterly disturbing as he turns this characteristic into an energy source for a disturbing and destructive need for control.

The play was originally performed in New York where it garnered 12 nominations for the Tony Awards (but failed to win any). Perhaps the second act with its theme of group therapy resonated as a more familiar experience when played in Manhattan. However, in London, the ensemble’s conversations set within this forum continue to work as a medium for revelation while providing yet more scope for amusement. The American accents used by the actor therapists are on occasion hard to decipher from the London stalls.

The superb set by Clint Ramos consists of a double layer of directed, slightly distorting mirrors. For most of the play therefore the audience is intentionally viewing themselves and those around them as well as those on stage.

There is undoubtedly a pervading artificiality to the single-lens perspective through which the failures of the biracial relationships being examined are perceived. Controversial too, upsetting many with the theories, criticisms and hypotheses put forwards. This is not however a play looking to provide its audiences with answers. Instead, issues are held to the light for their examination.

Not to be missed.

5 Star Rating

Review by Marian Kennedy

At the MacGregor Plantation the Old South is alive and well. The heat in the air, the cotton fields and the power of the whip. Yet nothing is quite as it appears… or maybe it is.

Fisayo Akinade – Gary
James Cusati-Moyer – Dustin
Kit Harington – Jim
Aaron Heffernan – Philip
Chalia La Tour – Teá
Irene Sofia Lucio – Patricia
Annie McNamara – Alana
Olivia Washington – Kaneisha
Troy Alexander – Understudy Philip
Dimitri Gripari – Understudy Jim and Dustin
Maite Jaurgeui – Understudy Alana and Patricia
Prince Kundai – Understudy Gary
Malikah McHerrin-Cobb – Understudy Kaneisha and Teá

Jeremy O. Harris – Writer
Robert O’Hara – Director
Clint Ramos – Set Designer
Dede Ayite – Costume Designer
Jiyoun Chang – Lighting Designer
Lindsay Jones – Composer and Sound Designer
Claire Warden – Intimacy and Fight Director
Byron Easley – Original US Choreography
Jade Hackett – UK Choreographer

SLAVE PLAY
Noel Coward Theatre
29 June to 21 September 2024

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