20 October 2022
BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY (National Theatre, Lyttelton) Review Redux
Having originally booked the tickets to this show purely to see Samira Wiley on stage (having rather liked her in Tartuffe), my first performance (reviewed here) was somewhat disappointing, as she was ill, and we got to see Helena Pipe play Angel, the main character. After Wiley returned, I booked again, but got to see Pipe again, as Wiley was off with a different illness. Thought I’d give her one last chance, and so I finally got to see Wiley play Angel.
What a difference her performance made! The play still feels outdated, and the twists are still somewhat predictable, but this time Angel (well, Wiley) actually carries the play. She is no longer unlikable. In fact, you feel sorry for her more so than anything. Granted, most of her troubles are of her own making by way of daft decisions and lack of faith (in Guy and in her own dreams), but she is almost childlike in her tempestuousness. Wiley is fairly short and is very slender, so her stature coupled with just-right costumes make her appear not just mentally but physically fragile. Unlike Pipe, she doesn’t roll her eyes or purse her lips to make a point. Instead, she presents a calm exterior that’s boiling over underneath.
We were also treated to a masterclass in acting when a fan accidentally flew out of Wiley’s hand. She recovered so naturally and with such great flourish that my companion (who wasn’t with me at the two prior shows) was certain the whole sequence was planned and scripted.
Giles Terera was just as delightfully funny as before, but his Guy has gotten campier with each performance, so much so that he is in danger of tipping from a real person into a caricature of himself, which would be a shame. There is too much pausing to roll the eyes or shake the hand or tut-tut. During the first performance I saw there were a few places that felt as though Terera was lifting the happy-go-lucky mask to let us see the real Guy underneath, and all that is gone now. Similarly, Ronke Adekoluejo is also swinging wild with the pantomime. In the first performance, Delia’s shyness was almost pathological and sweet, whereas now it is a lot more about playing to the audience and waiting for laughs.
Sule Rimi and Osy Ikhile (as Sam and Leland, respectively) have settled into their roles and are both enjoyable to watch.
As I mentioned in the first review, there is Chekhov’s gun at play here. Yet when the literal gun shown to the audience mid-way through the play gets eventually drawn, the entire audience gaps in shock. It’s funny because I don’t quite get that… You might not know how an altercation might end, but it would be silly not to expect one given that more or less the whole play is leading up to it. During this particular performance, when the gun was fired (don’t worry, no spoilers here), a woman somewhere at the front of stalls screamed like she was witnessing someone being run over. It’s good to see the audience getting their money’s worth.
The pacing is still slow (Linton doesn’t appear to have adjusted it). However, as Sam says to his friends about Delia’s speech at church, “I stayed awake the whole time”.
If you get a chance to see it with Wiley playing, it is definitely worth seeing.
Cheapskate enjoyment value: £6.