Blues for an Alabama Sky by Pearl Cleage plays on the National Theatre’s Lyttelton stage from 20 September until 5 November. Directed by Lynette Linton,
"New York, 1930. Following a decade of creative explosion, the Harlem Renaissance is starting to feel the bite of the Great Depression. In the face of hardship and dwindling opportunity, Angel and her friends battle to keep their artistic dreams alive. But, when Angel falls for a stranger from Alabama, their romance forces the group to make good on their ambitions, or give in to the reality of the time."
I had the pleasure of seeing this play twice. I was very impressed the first time around and when the opportunity presented itself to see it again, at Press Night, I leapt at the chance. It was a while since I had seen a play that really spoke to me. It was a very comfortable experience, with so many different aspects. 'Blues for an Alabama Sky' also created provocative thought, introspection, contemplation and even dilemma. Taking us into places which may have challenged our own moral compass at times. There were times when the subject matters challenged and ignited our emotions and emotional responses and reactions, sometimes emitting gasps from the audience, as ripples of shock waves. Other times to roars of laughter and heaving unashamed giggles. As a member of the audience I found myself subtly and comfortably caught up in it all, because the play was so mesmerising. The actors where very very good, portraying their characters so well, creating the feel, the ambience, so well that I felt I was part of the Harlem Renaissance, even on stage with them. Words I feel represented 'the everything of this play are ' captivating, thought-provoking, provocative, nostalgic. '
"What was the Harlem Renaissance in simple terms?
The Harlem Renaissance was a period of U.S. history marked by a burst of creativity within the African American community in the areas of art, music and literature. Centered within New York City's Harlem, the Harlem Renaissance began roughly with the end of World War I in 1918 and continued into the mid-1930s." Blues for an Alamaba Sky, touched on the many aspects of the times during the Harlem Renaissance. The play was a nostalgic journey into an era where on the one-hand it was a time of vibrancy and fresh innovation, there was a frivolity of creative expression that filled the air, everyone wanted to be somebody, to fulfil their dreams, to 'Make It'. The reference to Josephine Baker, the famous American-born French dancer, singer and actress, whose aspiration it was of the character Guy Jacobs, a Dress maker, played by Giles Terera, to get his garments seen and worn by Josephine and her dancers, alongwith the mention of Langston Hughes, the American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist, further created the ambiance of those times. Whilst in the background the subtly dulcet and sassy tones of the likes of Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, played.
The play touched on some very poignant and controversially social issues, which were often considered 'taboo' at the time i.e the right for women to have abortions, homosexuality and the acceptance or not of it, religion, faith - all the things that make this journey of us as human-beings.
Giles Terera who plays Guy and Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo as Delia Patterson Giles Terera who plays Guy, a gay man, his performance is absolutely hilarious. Giles brings Guy to life in a wonderfully vivid way, his mannerisms are animated and captivating. His tongue-in-cheek humor and great theatrical expressions really engaged the audience.
Ronke Adekoluejo's character Delia was sweet, the eternal optimist. A church girl full of ambition and promise in her hope to change the lives of others. An activist with a dream to help others, to be the voice of the family, for women, for the rights to have abortion, Delia's wishful activism, along with her playful childlike mannerisms, gave the play that added giggle, giving insight into the complex world of religion, the impact of race in terms of social justice and human rights.
Osy Ikhile, played Leland Cunningham, nick name 'Mr Alabama' - Mr Smooth, sharply dressed, religious bigot, who was extremely opinionated. However, his notion of family and the sanctity of the family unit was strong, alongwith having old skool values highlighted the juxtaposing ideology of Christian beliefs and values against the values of compassion, love, and understanding for and of another human being. His character presented two main thought-provoking scenarios, around his perception and ideology of homosexuals and abortion. However, falling in love with Angel, wanting to be 'that man' for her, who protected, who provided, went against everything that Angel thought she wanted.
Then we had the good old doctor, played by Sule Rimi as Sam Thomas. A humorous, good-hearted doctor who lived a life of Service to his community, who loved to drink and who was constantly tired. Someone who was a great support to many, and whose position was compromised several times by Angel's antics. However, a man whose life was greater, than he realised.
The lead character Samira Wiley performed the role of Angel, a woman who was as complicated as she was childishly selfish. Her character was that of a woman conflicted by wanting to achieve her dreams, yet who was also tired of attaining the dream. Life had dealt Angel a complex hand, and she had learned to survive, in her land of wistful thinking and dreams, carried away by the notion of love, and being loved by a man who she would want to spend the rest of her life with, a man who would look after her and provide for her. However, she was conflicted between the love of a man, Leland, who wanted to offer her all these things, and yet she fell back into her own selfish default place, sabotaging everything. Angel's decisions, ultimately affected everyone around her, and as her world came toppling down, we saw the same of those around her. However, they were able to hold onto the remnants of their dreams to rise, where as Angel fell back into a place that was the only place she truly knew and understood, sitting on the sidelines of life. This was her safety net, and yet it was her prison.
Blues for an Alabama Sky, gave insight into what it meant to be a black person during the Harlem Renaissance, a black person with a dream. This was an era that offered a bouquet of opportunities for dreams to become reality, where hope was actually something tangible and where black people could finally become somebody, and be recognized as human beings, where they could experience their own humanity.
A definite must see.
Samira Wiley (The Handmaid’s Tale) performs the role of Angel Allen in her UK stage debut with Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo (Three Sisters) as Delia Patterson, Osy Ikhile (Sweat) as Leland Cunningham, Sule Rimi (Barber Shop Chronicles) as Sam Thomas and Giles Terera (Death of England: Face to Face) as Guy Jacobs. Lincoln Conway, Eddie Elliott, Kimberley Okoye and Helena Pipe complete the company.
Set and costume design by Frankie Bradshaw, lighting designer is Oliver Fenwick, composer is Benjamin Kwasi Burrell, sound designer is George Dennis, movement director is Kane Husbands, wigs hair and make-up design is Cynthia De La Rosa and Staff Director TD Moyo.