Friday, 2 August 2013

the amen corner; children of the sun

Courtesy of a school trip we had two theatre outings in a row, both at the National Theatre: The Amen Corner on Tuesday 11 June at the Olivier, and Children Of The Sun on Wednesday 12 June at the Lyttelton.

The Amen Corner was just starting, and in fact we saw it on its press night. We enjoyed it, though a large part of that I'm sure was the gospel singing, of which there was quite a bit in the first half in particular. I'm not sure how engaging it would have been without that, as a play, although the performances were very good. It was a James Baldwin play, set in Harlem in 1953; he wrote it that year and published it the next (according to the programme), his first play, written after his successful first novel. The audience demographic was atypically black for the theatre, contrasting with the Gorky the following night. Marianne Jean-Baptiste, from Secrets and Lies and Without A Trace, was good in the main role, and Sharon D Clarke, who we've seen in the Hackney Empire panto, as her sister; also their main opponent in the church, though her part was very showy so she had the chance to shine. Sharon D Clarke had the best line, which went something like, 'Whenever there's a woman up worrying about something, there's a man somewhere nearby, sleeping.' The play was an interesting cultural and social insight. He wrote it from his own experience. Although it wasn't played upon much, you realised that the black characters' status in society was lowly, but that here in their church it was not and that this was the place where they were the people they really were; and equally, that despite it being church, it was as full of hierarchy and politics, jealousy and deceit, as society in general or any other kind of organisation; but it certainly wasn't anti-church or the faith of the faithful, but sympathetically representing this central part of the black community experience of the time.

Children of the Sun was by Maxim Gorky, and was okay, but one of those revivals which makes you think you can see why it hasn't been revived more often, and while it makes a nice change from Chekhov, and it's good to see plays from periods and regions other than the usual plays from those periods and regions, it suffers by comparison, and tends to confirm why someone has survived in repertoire and others haven't. There are, of course, conversely, other occasions when you can't think why this revived play isn't seen all the time when others which don't seem so good from its time and period are seen (it's often because the latter are lesser plays from a major writer). (We'd previously seen a revival of Summerfolk at the National, which again was very reminiscent of Chekhov; though of course to be fair they were contemporaries writing plays about contemporary Russia.) Again, Children of the Sun was well acted, though I don't remember any performances in particular (and I don't think I recognised anyone), but the plot seemed very cliched. They had a fire and explosion in the lab in the end, which was impressive.