Review: Trouble in Mind, National Theatre

Tanya Moodie sizzles in a strong production of Alice Childress’ play Trouble in Mind at the National Theatre

“Laugh, laugh when it ain’t funny at all”

I had to see Trouble in Mind in two halves. My first trip to the National Theatre was curtailed by my booster playing merry havoc with me but fortunately I was able to return a few days later to see beyond the interval. And I’m glad I did, as Tanya Moodie leads a fantastic ensemble in Nancy Medina’s measured production.

Alice Childress wrote this play, her first, in 1955 and it will come as little surprise to anyone that its exploration of racism in theatre feels pretty much just as pertinent today as it ever did. She details the experience of a group of black actors as they start to rehearse a ‘coloured play’, naturally directed by a white guy who blithely thinks he’s the one being brave.

It is perhaps just a touch too stately at times but Medina navigates the constant shifts between comedy (Naana Agyei-Ampadu’s Millie is properly hilarious) and the truly shocking with skill. In a similar way to Small Axe and ear for eye, it presents a mainstream audience with undeniable and uncompromising depictions of racism and dares us to say ‘not me’.

There’s painfully truthful discussions about racist language and if it should ever be used, about the negativity but also the necessity of going along with the status quo of playing such poorly written racial stereotypes rather than challenging them, about the literal costs of having principles. Cyril Nri is excellent too but by the play’s end, you know damn well that it is Moodie who is the star.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
Trouble in Mind is booking at the National Theatre until 29th January

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