August Wilson’s JITNEY had a sell-out run off-Broadway for 18 months and won numerous awards and one can see why. This production, which is only at the Lyttelton for 34 performances, is an outstanding drama.
The story, set in Pittsburgh in the late 1970s, concerns a group of men who drive jitney cars for a living. (Jitney is the American name for an unlicensed cab company serving the local community). The story focuses on these men as they search for honour in their everyday working lives. The author, August Wilson is known for his work in exploring the heritage and experience of African-Americans decade by decade and in this play he brings this experience into fruition with a heart warming powerful play as the men face their struggles independently and together! There is Youngblood (Russell Andrews), a young man who blames the ‘white man’ for all his troubles; Turnbo (Stephen McKinley Henderson), who knows everyone’s business; Fielding (Anthony Chrisholm), who is always drunk; Doub (Barry Shabaka Henley), a kind and thoughtful guy who has been with the firm for 12 years; and there is Becker (Roger Robinson), the boss who is respected by everyone because he always plays fair.
This is a powerful and hard-hitting script with an emotional punch. The play excels when Becker’s son, Booster (Keith Randolph Smith), is released from prison after 20 years for killing his white lover. Becker never visited his son in prison and blames his son for letting him down after he had worked and struggled to give his son a better chance in life. He also blames his son for killing his wife, as she died of a broken heart weeks after he was sentenced. Becker now wants nothing to do with his son. When they meet the exchange between them is gripping and emotional and you will find it hard not to be moved.
The acting is of the highest standard. There is not one weak link in the entire company. Their conviction is meticulous.
The set design by David Gallo is also exceptional and captures perfectly a run down Cab Company, which has a telephone that won’t stop ringing, a sofa and a stove. The backdrop is a shop front through which you can see onto the sloping street with old battered cars parked outside.
This bitter-sweet play has an emotional ending that will tug at the heart strings, but make no mistake this is not a sentimental drama!!
This play has recieved good notices from the popular press.... NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD thought the show was excellent saying, “Beautiful, terrifically acted play.” BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES describes it as a "wonderful play". He goes on to say, "Nobody....should miss Marion McClinton’s production. Nor should anyone who values ensemble acting." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Prepare to be blown away. August Wilson's Jitney is a wonderful play, tough, tender, bursting with life, love, humour and pain. " He goes on to say, "You really mustn't miss this extraordinary, powerful and heart-catching play." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN was luke -warm saying the play is "both informative and entertaining, but has an over-resolved neatness that betrays its youthful origins. Spiritually progressive it may be, but aesthetically it's conservative." JOHN PETER for SUNDAY TIMES says, "I did not think anybody wrote such plays anymore..." SUSANNAH CLAPP for THE OBSERVER says,"There aren't many plays as exhilarating as August Wilson's Jitney." However, RHODA KOENIG for THE INDEPENDENT was not impressed by the play saying, "Not that Jitney is a terrible play. But it is a desultory one, with little of interest to say, and it is unconvincing in its evocation of the period..."
If ever a show deserved to transfer to the mainstream West End then this is it. Lasting 2 and 40 minutes, I urge you not to miss this brilliant play.
Links to full reviews from newspapers...