Trouble in Mind has a splendid beginning and a clever ending. A suffused light introduces us to the first scene, and we are (metaphorically) escorted out of the performance by some wonderful singing. What lies in the middle is a play within a play, addressing prejudice and race issues, including a few stirring moments, and speaking to the heart and the mind alike.
Meta-theatrically (but in a controlled manner), Trouble in Mind by Alice Childress tells of the rehearsals of Chaos in Belleville, a play with coloured cast and white directors, in a mid-50s New York. Chaos in Belleville, in turn, narrates an anti-lynching story, considered “an explosive subject” for the time. Forced by the director to a script that is inauthentic, with peaks of more or less overt racism, both black and white actors opt for complacency over rebellion. Only the talented Afro-American actor Wiletta finds the courage to question the plot and the director’s choices, and put her own integrity before anything else.
Utterly relevant, the play is far from its first staging. With its original opening in New York in 1955, and its London première in 1992, this adaptation at The Print Room Coronet is a revival of an old glory. But Trouble in Mind speaks of race issues with great wit and subtlety, of which there is much need today. It acts as a great reminder never to stop questioning what we see, live, do, and to be constantly alert, even when moral laziness would be the easiest choice.
Tanya Moodie; Photo by Simon Annand
Wiletta Mayer (Tanya Moodie) is the half naïve, half implacable actor casted in a controversial mixed production. Moodie finds the right balance between the rebellious heroine and the accommodating, eternally positive, experienced woman. Even her theatrical manners and her occasional shambling on stage are can all be considered part of the character. Touching are in particular her (too few?) moments of singing, which increases exponentially her already strong communicative power.
Remarkable is also her direct confrontation with the neurotic director Al Manner (an explosive Jonathan Slinger). Slinger, in turn, does a great job in keeping the core of the play alive: he makes sure that the utter prejudices that imbue the play come to life at intermittent pace, attempting to sell them as “the firm texture of truth” or “slices of life”. A final mention deserve the facial expressions of Ncuti Gatwa playing the young actor John Nevins: his memorable mimic and agile movements on stage crown him as another brilliantly accomplished character.
Sensitive, unexpected, and hugely thought-provoking, Trouble in Mind proves that there are endless ways to address race issues, and that this can be done in wonderfully creative and incredibly moving ways.
Trouble in Mind runs at the Print Room, Coronet until 14th October, at 7pm during the week and 3pm on Saturday matinees. Tickets can be purchased on their website.
Cast and Crew
Director: Laurence Boswell
Designer: Polly Sullivan
Lightning Designer: Colin Genfell
Sound Designer: Jon Nicholls
Casting Director: Ginny Schiller
Costume Supervisor: Holly Henshaw
Dialect Coach: Elspeth Morrison
Assistant Director: Fay Lomas
Cast: Tanya Moodie, Andrew Alexander, Faith Alabi, Daisy Boulton, Pip Donaghy, Ncuti Gatwa, Geoff Leesley, Jonathan Slinger, Ewart James Walters