Review - Trouble in Mind at the Print Room
Some plays are revived again and again. Others are forgotten again and again. Alice Childress's 1955 off-Broadway play Trouble in Mind - which belatedly received its British premiere at North London's Tricycle Theatre in 1992 - has been newly rediscovered a second time now in a production that first opened at Bath's Ustinov Studio last November, and has now arrived at London's Print Room. (The Ustinov is increasingly becoming a theatrical powerhouse, recently also responsible for originating The Mentor that transferred to the West End's Vaudeville Theatre).
It's a spellbinding occasion: a play of and about the theatre, permeated by rage about racial inequality that stretched even to this liberal corner of the theatrical universe as actors, rehearsing a play about a racial lynching, find tensions erupting between them, as their controlling white director and a mixed-race cast try to negotiate the sensitivities of the play and of each other. One white actor, for instance, refuses to eat lunch publicly with other members of the acting company: he says that he hates being stared at while he is eating, as other people will do if he's seen to be eating in mixed company.
There's a sublime warm-hearted generosity to the performances in Laurence Boswell's atmospheric production of a play that's frequently about a lack of generosity.
Towering over it is Tanya Moodie's extraordinary performance as Wiletta Mayer, the leading lady of the company who's ready to make compromises - but is eventually forced to draw the line. Also super-charged is Jonathan Slinger as the director Al Manners, and Ewart James Walters and Pip Donaghy bring a quieter dignity to the roles of an elderly actor and stage doorman respectively that pulse with feeling.
Playwright Alice Childress made history by being the first African-American woman to have a play professionally produced in New York; but she refused to compromise, and after the Off-Broadway premiere of Trouble in Mind in 1955, she refused changes that would have made it more palatable to commercial audiences and so it never transferred to Broadway. But the play valiantly survives, and is it is thrilling to have the opportunity to see it again now.
Trouble in Mind runs at the Print Room until 14th October.