Porgy and Bess at Regent’s Park Open Air
Timothy Sheader’s refreshing production of Porgy and Bess perfectly juxtaposes the hardships of South Carolina with the joys of song and dance. A play written by whites about an impoverished African American community, George Gershwin’s work has always been a political minefield. However, the show has been consistently revived and, politics aside, Sheader provides a vibrant and emotional production.
The feel of community, with all its warmth and hostility, is rife in Catfish Row. The people of this town will stand by you no matter what, as long as you conform to their expectations. Bess, a woman with a heightened sense of her own sexuality, is outcast and struggles with addiction, relying on Happy Dust to deal with the pain of her exclusion. Masculinity is also touched upon: the play explores the life of a man with a physical disability in a place where machismo is crucial for survival. This is further complicated by the belittling of the black community by the whites, who beat and berate them.
The casting in this production is fantastic, with Nicola Hughes knocking out a divinely sensual and emotionally troubled Bess. Her self-destructive nature and struggles with addiction are played out beautifully and as the sun sets over Regent’s Park, the audience shivers as they watch her descend into a life of darkness. Porgy is played by American actor Rufus Bonds Jr whose love and pain is heartbreakingly apparent from beginning to end. The supporting cast is equally strong, particularly Golda Rosheuval who stirs the audience with a painfully realistic performance of a grief-stricken wife. Cedric Neal breathes energy into the play as Sporting Life, leading It Ain’t Necessarily So, the most exciting musical number of the production.
Expertly pared down, the show places huge operatic numbers next to jaunty jazz pieces with seamless transition. Sheader’s team take full advantage of the classics contained within this production and the audience is left breathless from the exquisite recitals of Summertime and It Ain’t Necessarily So. Unfortunately, the show is let down by Katrina Lindsay’s set. A huge battered copper sculpture, it adds nothing, instead seeming to distract from the nuance of the production.
Gershwin’s score is timeless, though, and the acting impeccable. The location of Regent’s Park manages to forgive Lindsay’s set, meaning audiences are in for a knock-out production.
Porgy and Bess is on at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until 23rd August 2014, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch director Timothy Sheader speak about Porgy and Bess here: