The Long Road South at the King’s Head Theatre
What is the result of perfunctory characters framed within an underdeveloped narrative in 1960s Middle America? A vapid play that attempts to illustrate the turbulence of a defining period in American history.
After the long, sweltering summer of 1965, it is at last Andre and Grace’s final day of service as hired help to Jake, Carol Ann and Ivy Price. Their intention is to head south to Alabama, a place mired in both hope and struggle, to join the Civil Rights movement and reunite with Andre’s daughter, Jule, who was placed into foster care by social services under undue allegations. The Prices, with their own set of typical discrepancies from the ideal nuclear family, object and position themselves as obstacles to Andre and Grace’s imminent departure, displaying contention with the disruption of the status quo.
The script features all the predictable archetypes of an American period drama: the despotic patriarchal figurehead, the self-pitying, alcoholic housewife, their disturbingly sexually precocious adolescent daughter, the defiant young woman and the seemingly wholesome man attempting to atone a chequered past. With subplot points more enticing than the driving action, the text comes close to exposing an enticing family drama, where a sense of the unrest and tribulation that marks the period is only sloppily set in the background. Seasoned with obligatory quotes and name drops, this play attempts and fails to tackle greater issues.
That being said, The Long Road South is not a complete waste of time, thanks to the solid performance by Michael Brandon in his reprisal of the role of Jake Price and Imogen Stubbs’s spellbinding, fearless portrayal of the washed-up, damaged Carol Ann. The cast’s choice of varying accents does not nearly threaten the illusion of reality as much as the subpar execution of a scuffle between Jake and Andre, which is reminiscent of a schoolyard play fight. Although intimacy is created by cramped quarters and a thrust stage, the efficacy of this arrangement is brought into question when the actor speaking is completely out of view to half the audience, which happens more often than it should.
Indeed, it is difficult to offer something more or worthwhile to a body of work set in an era in which such poignant pieces abound. Stubbs makes a telling observation that The Long Road South is a “new play that reads like an old play,” a summary evaluation which actually doesn’t impart excitement or appeal for the show at all.
The Long Road South is on at the Royal Court Theatre from 12th January until 30th January 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the director and cast speak about The Long Road South here: