Monday, August 03, 2009

The Mountaintop

I loved this two-hander by American writer Katori Hall, and so did the rest of the audience, going by the standing ovation at Trafalgar Studio1 last Friday. James Dacre's direction is brisk in a play that keeps its momentum for 85 uninterrupted minutes.

It’s April 1968, and a stormy night in Memphis, as ‘Preacher’ King prepares an address to protesting workers the following day. He worries about his family back home and the possibly violent outcome of the march. Sassy maid Camae, with a cigarette pack in her garter, agrees to keep the insomniac leader company, for reasons of her own. As they review the self-doubting activist’s career, a shocking connection between the wildly different characters is revealed. More astute audience members no doubt guessed Camae’s identity long before I did.

Memorable touches include a tour de force portrayal of the great man’s preaching style, delivered by Camae as she stands on the bed, Luther jumping to ominous thunder cracks and a pillow fight which echoes the weather outside as well as the astonishing surprise. ‘It sometimes snows in Memphis in April’, says Camae. The best surprise of all, though, is who can be reached on the telephone extension. Eat your heart out, BT!

The play’s title refers to what became known as King’s ‘mountaintop speech’ – it’s superbly acted by David Harewood and Lorraine Burroughs and full of surprises.

Although the set’s what you might call adequate, Richard Hammarton's music & sound and Emma Chapman's lighting design are very effective. The script keeps you laughing until you end up crying and clapping.

The Mountaintop:

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