“A decent woman never talks about two things: her age and her lovers”
Ensembles that offer multiple opportunities for middle-aged women of colour (apologies for the clunky description) are few and far between so I think it is important to acknowledge Indhu Rubasingham’s efforts in bringing The House That Will Not Stand to the Tricycle for that alone. That Marcus Garvey’s play turns out to delve into a fascinating and under-explored period in history thus feels like something of a Brucie bonus.
It’s New Orleans in 1836 and Lazare Albans has died. As mistress to this rich white man, the fiercely proud Beartrice has become wealthy in her own right and under the relatively liberal system of plaçage, she and their three daughters are free women and stand to receive a grand inheritance. But as Louisiana changes hands from the French to the Yankees, so too do the prevailing US attitudes towards slavery glower on the horizon and threatens the position of all people of colour in a state that had somehow bucked the trend in race relations.
Under plaçage, the prospects of the three daughters – Ayesha Antoine, Ronke Adekoluejo and Danusia Samal all in impressive form – depended on the lightness of their skin (I don’t think I’ll look at a brown paper bag in the same way again) but even as Martina Laird’s Beartrice declares that true freedom will be theirs, it is clear that forces are gathering against them. From which direction these come though, makes the second act a true delight as domestic squabbles give way to voodoo rituals, interventions from the spirit world and a grand sense of near-operatic extravagance.
Rubasingham directs nimbly with the assistance of evocative lighting from Paul Anderson and a statuesque but simple set from Tom Piper, and there is much to savour in the striking performances. Laird’s matriarch pulses with frustrated power, Michele Austin is wickedly enjoyable as vindictively gossiping neighbour La Veuve and Tanya Moodie caps off an excellent year with a stunning take on Makeda, the servant who more than stands up for herself, eyes gleaming with resourceful ingenuity. A fantastic production of a most intriguing play.