(Hampstead Theatre: seen at the Evening performance on 27th March 2018).
Some actors may have now left the cast.
For a start, it’s pronounced Caro-lynn, not Caro-line, a black American woman
working alone in the basement of a wealthy Jewish family in 1963 Louisiana USA.
Radio, washing machine and dryer (built by the devil) are her companions –
sometimes young Noah, son of the household drops in to light a cigarette.
Back in her own home, Caroline’s children have ambition but lack money. They
are, though, caught in the hope of JFK USA, icons are falling, and opportunities
– not least in education – are opening before them all.
On one level, this is
simple domestic drama. Noah (Aaron Gallacher) leaves change in his pocket.
Step-mother Rose (Lauren Ward) tells Caroline to keep it, as a lesson to him.
The mystery of the stolen local Confederate statue, the difficulties of
step-motherhood and knowing one’s place in life are the themes.
The beauty is
how Tony Kushner’s book and lyric are really about so much more. The money is
about ownership and trust – the entitlement to receive all that life has to
offer, and to do good with it. The rest is about those things which bind and
divide entire societies. Love and race being obvious themes.
All are explored
in a sung-through operatic score by Jeanine Tesori. Refrains blend, styles mix,
clash and harmonise. Here, the Fly Davies set fractures and revolves to
underline points and Michael Longhurst keeps the pace steady to allow the
complex music and words to say it all.
Sharon D Clarke in the title role is a
phenomenon. Seldom off stage nor silent, exuding calm until she can take no
more. Dutiful, motherly yet fierce in her convictions, remarkable, simply
remarkable. Young Aaron Gallacher almost makes it into the same category, so
young, yet capable of impressive vocals and dramatic ability.
Abiona Omonua (Emmie
Thibodeaux) as the rebellious daughter also takes acting honours, a fiery scene
with Mr. Stopnick (Teddy Kempner) a highlight of the performance for both.
Further, her interactions with siblings Jackie and Joe give Kenyah Sandy and
Dave Dube a chance to shine.
For Noah’s family, Lauren Ward does a neat line
in non-wicked Step Mother to Alastair Brookshaw’s relaxed musician Stuart.
The ensemble do well, notably Angela Caesar a luminous floating moon, Ako
Mitchell a threatening dryer, Me’Sha Bryan a literally bubbly washing machine.
If Radio (T’Shan Williams, Carole Stennett, Sharon Rose) seemed less than
co-ordinated in their spatial relationship to each other, no mind, they sing up
Sure, the book sometimes drifts a little, the final scenes as
inconclusive as the civil rights struggle remains. Still, this is a challenging
and often moving lesson, a show with unique ideas and concept that rewards every
moment spent watching and discussing afterwards. Pretty much unmissable for
anyone seeking an intelligent evening.