Review: Blues for an Alabama Sky, National Theatre

Stunning performances from Giles Terera, Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo and more lead the excellent Blues for an Alabama Sky at the National Theatre

“Just like always, OK?”

Directed by Lynette Linton, Pearl Cleage’s 1995 play Blues for an Alabama Sky continues a strong season, indeed a strong year, for the National Theatre. Set in 1930, when the Harlem Renaissance – a resurgence of African-American arts and culture – was meeting the sharp end of the Great Depression, we follow the fortunes of a group of friends trying to keep their artistic dreams alive as times are starting to get tight.

Designer Guy dreams of making clothes for Josephine Baker, Angel dreams of Paris stages and doctor Sam completes this trio of hard-drinking pals. Neighbour and birth control advocate Delia is sweet on Sam but it is the introduction of Angel’s new fella Leland that acts as the catalyst for unalterable change for them all. An arrival from Alabama, his fallout from his highly conservative views ripples significantly across all their lives.

A richly evocative character study, it is a play – and a production – that is unafraid to take its time in making its way. And the destination is well worth the wait, all the more satisfying for the details that has gone before. Giles Terera and Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo continue a run of extraordinary performances with beautiful work as Guy and Delia, Sule Rimi and Osy Ikhile contrast well as Sam and Leland and for so early in the run, Helena Pipe is astonishingly good, on for Samira Wiley as Angel.

Frankie Bradshaw’s set fills the Lyttelton well, as does the sound of Benjamin Kwasi Burrell’s compositions, pointing back to a time that the world is fast moving on from, as the darkening skies of the 1930s loom ever larger. Who knows why more of Pearl Cleage’s work hasn’t been staged here (beyound the obvious) but you imagine productions of this quality might spearhead more (deserved) interest. 

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Marc Brenner
Blues for an Alabama Sky is booking at the National Theatre until 5th November

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