Trouble in Mind at the Print Room at the Coronet
It is surprising when a 1955 play proves to be a timely commentary on current debates on race and theatre. The rediscovery of Alice Childress’s Trouble in Mind shows that some of the issues faced over 60 years ago as regards this topic are still valid today. Even if the context has changed, discussions on equality written at the time have retained their relevance. What were bold topics then, are still notions of interest to a modern audience.
The protagonist is African-American actress Wiletta Mayer (Tanya Moodie), who is excited to return to the stage in a Broadway production of Chaos in Belleville, a controversial play denouncing lynching. The theme of the story creates some tension between the mixed group of actors. Most of them accept the two-dimensional portrayals of black characters as the only channel likely to reach a 1950s white audience and rouse their sympathy. Wiletta, on the other hand, has great difficulty accepting the passive behaviour of her character: a mother advising her son to accept his fate as he faces lynching. The cast is led by white director Al (Jonathan Slinger), whose well-meaning pro-equality project is somewhat marred by his totalitarian attitude and refusal to listen to others’ opinions.
Rehearsals turn into a power game that sees race, class and age divide the group and bring personal opinions to the surface, until open clashes are inevitable. The complex nature of the themes as well as the play-within-a-play dynamic make Trouble in Mind a challenging feat, but it is handled with great skill by director Laurence Boswell, who consistently keeps it lively and thoroughly entertaining while bigger questions are being raised. The merit also goes to a brilliant cast that doesn’t miss a beat, and to Childress herself who keeps the debate balanced and does not demonise her antagonists.
Moodie and Slinger bring the conflict alive with great force and, bar a couple of passages, the piece runs fluidly and has enough humorous touches to keep it lighthearted. The Print Room is a wonderful space and makes for a fitting extension to the theatre of the story that impresses Wiletta at first sight, and the 1950s costumes add charm visually. A truly satisfying play in many ways, Trouble in Mind succeeds in presenting important questions in a way that has the audience gripped from start to finish.
Photo: Simon Annand
Trouble in Mind is at the Print Room at the Coronet from 14th September until 14th October 2017. For further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Trouble in Mind here: