StageScan Pick: One Night in Miami

One Night in Miami at the Donmar Warehouse scored an average 4 stars from pro reviewers.  Libby Purves (TheatreCat) gave it five, finding this play, set at “a key moment in America’s struggle towards racial justice… startling, powerful” and “moving”.

Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard) praised Sope Dirisu’s “athletic” Cassius Clay and Purves saw him “scampering, dancing… merrily bumptious”. Daisy Bowie-Sell (What’s On Stage), admitting the character “feels underwritten” nevertheless enjoyed “beautiful, believable, vibrant and naïve energy”.

Purves praised Arinzé Kene’s “conflicted, angry… creative” Sam Cooke, Hitchings detecting “hidden depths” while Bowie-Sell thought him “superb”. She described “a voice that channels the old master uncannily” and Michael Billington (Guardian) heard him sing “with real joy”. Purves hailed show-stopping of “startling brilliance” including “a tremendous a capella rendering” of A Change is Gonna Come.

Billington saw Francois Battiste “subtly” capture Malcolm X’s “mix of assertive self-righteousness and fear for his future”. Bowie-Sell found “palpable conflict” in his “very strong depiction”. Hitchings admired “angry clarity” and Purves found the performance “striking, contained” and finally “moving” .

Bowie-Sell thought David Ajala’s “wise and likeable everyman” Jim Brown “great” and others found him “solid, thoughtful” and “impressive”. Billington saw it “outstandingly acted”, with Bowie-Sell judging all four “uniformly excellent” in “meaty roles” declaring it “worth seeing… for their performances alone”.

Hitchings acknowledged “a risk of their seeming simply to be mouthpieces” but Bowie-Sell described a “kind of boxing match” between Malcolm X and Sam Cooke in which Kemp Powers’ “funny, agile dialogue keeps things moving”. Billington detected “obvious dramatic weaknesses”, most typically that Powers “never fully develops the character” of Clay. He thought it “heavily” relaint on “retrospective irony”, although Bowie-Sell felt this created “several witty moments”.

Purves saw it “directed with heart” while Bowie-Sell found Kwame Kwei-Armah’s “taut” direction manages to “keep the thread of argument dynamic” and Hitchings praised his sensitivity. Purves saw the four “leap, joke and fight, lithe as panthers” as their “laddishness and earnest idealism, thoughtless energy and political extremism clash and mix”.

Bowie-Sell described “a fascinating portrait of four fascinating men” and Billington found it “stirring to hear the path to racial progress… argued with such passion and presented with such fervour”. Hitchings hailed “soulful”, and “sharply topical” writing which “packs a substantial punch”. Purves said it “throbs with life and soul and the complexity of the road to justice” judging the whole “Terrific”.

Runs to 3 Dec 2016, with tickets still available from the Donmar box office. And for more superlatively acted inter-male dynamics, why not also check out No Man’s Land, or The Dresser?

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