2 December 2021
TROUBLE IN MIND (National Theatre) Review
Having never heard of this play by Alice Childress, I went by the summary on the NT’s website when deciding whether this was something I wanted to see: “A radical satire of racism in theatre… A talented black actress begins rehearsals for a new play about racism. When […] her arguments to tell the truth of the story are dismissed, she decides to take action.”
So… a play within a play overlaid with a black actress’ struggle to fit in with the world of white theatre. Great!
The quality of acting is unbelievably strong. Tanya Moodie (playing Wiletta, the protagonist) is captivating, Rory Keenan is funny and menacing, and the rest of the cast are pulling their weight and then some. And yet the play just doesn’t flow. Given the acting, I have to think this is down to Nancy Medina’s directing.
Firstly, every line is spoken with the degree of overacting you tend to see in a panto. Nothing feels genuine because of it, and everything and everyone is fake-fake-fake. Let’s be clear, I don’t mean the intentionally fake smiles and nods. Even when Wiletta is sharing some wisdom with John, when Sheldon is talking about his traumatic childhood experience, when Al explodes in a rant… those are all emotionally charged scenes with some clever writing behind them, but the mannerisms and eyerolling and the tone of voice makes all of it less then genuine and doesn’t do justice to what is clearly a strong play. The characters are simply unrelatable. In fact, I caught myself thinking that it’s more of a farce the way “Noises Off” is.
What’s worse, is that, although Wiletta is clearly unhappy throughout the rehearsals of the “inner” play, it reads as a constant level of mild unhappiness. That being the case, when things finally come to a head, it just doesn’t flow and makes the character appear almost bipolar. If things felt like they were gradually yet visibly building up, it would’ve been more genuine. The irony of this line of thinking isn’t lost on me: the starting point of her argument with Al is that she doesn’t believe the flow of the “inner” play, so it should be changed using her suggestion so to give it more common sense.
This is a difficult one: I liked the acting, but not the interpretation of the “mood” of the (for lack of a better word).
Cheapskate enjoyment value: £0.
Covid Note: Absolutely pathetic. Off the back of the latest government guidance, NT made masks mandatory inside. People were taking them off once they sat down, of course. If I could see them, the ushers should’ve been able to see them too. No action was taken. When I complained in the interval (and actually pointed to individuals without masks), I was told that they’d be spoken to, but we went into the second act with those people still not having any masks on… I was also told by an usher that they can’t make people put on masks, especially people are mid-row, as that would disrupt the performance. Whilst I appreciate the thought, what if those mid-row-and-hard-to-get-to people started taking their phones out and taking photos of the stage in the middle of the performance? Would we just let them do it, or would the ushers rush down and start shining flashlights in people’s faces? The lack of effort and interest in keeping the patrons safe is mind-boggling…