Trouble in Mind at the National Theatre
Trouble in Mind returns to the stage after a 2017 run at the Coronet, and it feels more pertinent than ever. Its new home is the Dorfman at the National Theatre, with a simultaneous (and long overdue) New York Broadway debut bearing further testament to the relevance of the play. Alice Childress’s piece, written and set in 1955, tells the story of a talented, ambitious black actress, whose career opportunities are very limited in a predominantly white and discriminatory industry. The themes fit so seamlessly into ongoing race inequality debates that Trouble in Mind seems to have been written in the present time.
Tanya Moodie reprises the role of Wiletta, who turns up to the first rehearsal of a theatre production of dubious quality that is meant to champion equality. She and another three black actors have agreed to take part only because opportunities to work are hard to come by, but the tradeoff is that they have to fill stereotypical roles. The plot requires them to recite daft dialogue and perform unrealistic, demeaning actions. Wiletta has perfected an artificially easygoing attitude and learned never to contradict anyone or complain, but when she starts working with white director Al Manners (Rory Keenan), she gradually reaches her limit and begins to openly challenge the status quo.
The production balances irony and drama very effectively and gets its points across with clarity. Unfortunately, it seems to go through the motions rather than truly bring the tension alive, as the 2017 production successfully did. Key moments, such as the clashes between Manners and Wiletta, do not stand out sufficiently from the satirical banter surrounding them. There is a general feeling of untapped potential that could have made the result far more powerful. Nevertheless, Trouble in Mind retains its value and there is no more fitting time in history to put it on stage.
Photo: Johan Persson
Trouble in Mind is at the National Theatre from 9th December until 29th January 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.