Caroline, or Change at Hampstead Theatre
From the opening number of Caroline, or Change, featuring singing household appliances, theatregoers wouldn’t be expecting a work of as much depth and emotional intensity as they are faced with. With a rich score full of hugely diverse influences, a deft exploration of loss and change unfolds with the beauty of Tony Kushner’s writing, brought to life by a stunning cast.
The poignant drama centres around Caroline (Sharon D Clarke) – a black woman working as a maid in the sixties – her children, neighbours and employers, the Gellmans – the young Noah (Charlie Gallacher), his clarinettist father (Alastair Brookshaw) and his second wife, Rose (Lauren Ward), who decides to allow the underpaid Caroline to keep the spare change Noah leaves in the pockets of his dirty clothes. The action is set against a political backdrop featuring the assassination of JFK and the civil rights movement, much of it resonating clearly with contemporary issues.
Sharon D Clarke is magnificent as Caroline, a character suffused with anger, both at the decision she is forced to make about taking money she needs from a child, and at the world around her. Forced to live with the daily consequences of oppression, she is nonetheless so keen to keep her head down that she resents her friend’s enrolment in night classes and her teenage daughter’s enthusiasm for politics. Underneath this, it’s clear to see the sorrow and helplessness that motivate her anger.
Noah is well-intentioned but self-centred, idolising the family’s maid yet unaware of the contempt and sense of ownership that underlies his attitude to her. As the boy struggles with the loss of his mother and his father’s remarriage, Caroline is in some ways a surrogate mother, but one who resists at every turn any emotional involvement. Charlie Gallacher gives the role vitality and charm, as one of several outstanding child actors, joined by David Dube and Kenyah Sandy as Caroline’s young sons. The entire cast, in fact, is exceptional, from washing machine, dryer, radio and moon, to human beings. Abiona Omonua particularly stands out as Caroline’s daughter Emmie, by turns sassy, playful, and serious.
Michael Longhurst’s production is exceptional, allowing the production to stand still and let moments of great emotional power shine through, but not neglecting the exuberance and humour of much of the score. With Jeanine Tesori’s through-composed music, incorporating blues and klezmer and a hundred other styles, Caroline, or Change is a delight to listen to as well as watch.
Photos: Alastair Muir
Caroline, or Change is at Hampstead Theatre from 12th March until 21st April 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Caroline, or Change here: