The Amen Corner - theatre review

It is Sunday morning, at The Amen ‘corner’ church in Harlem circa 1953 and pastor Margaret Anderson (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) extols from the pulpit that every person is a slave to sin; only through the price Jesus paid on the cross is a sinful person redeemed from sin and death. But are all the members of that church community really living a life of moral rectitude as seen through the eyes of God and why does God see some things and not others?

Jean-Baptiste’s, Pastor Margaret Alexander fervently believes in the religious notion of ultimate redemption and she delivers a performance of great depth and formidable presence, this is the portrayal of a woman who is caught in the iron grip of denial and then goes on the run from the truth.

Cecilia Noble delivers a beautifully timed performance of breathtaking virtuosity and nimbleness, her Sister Moore makes Charles Dickens’ creation, Uriah Heep, look pale in comparison.

Lucien Msamati’s Luke arrives like a guided heat seeking missile from the moment he enters the play, he brings a visceral energy all of its own, and with each carefully timed explosion the play snaps to attention. Msamati’s Luke is adroit and brave, a powerhouse of unfinished feelings, alienation, and remorse that leaves you in no doubt that things are about to get a great deal more complicated.

Occasionally, in moments of high emotion there seemed to be a shortage of the vocal support and strength required to drive the characters to their final dénouement. Accents, were, in some places too contemporary which sometimes affected the cadence and created a lack of clarity in a few key moments of dialogue.

Sharon D Clark as Odessa provides a poised counter balance, a stoic, delicately nuanced, characterisation, that creates a performance that exudes warmth, maturity and empathy.

The set design by Ian MacNeil dovetails the various segments of Pastor Margaret’s life while at the same time exposing the urban ‘corner’ society in action. The Reverend Bazil Meade’s London Community Gospel Choir and Tim Sutton’s three-piece band provides the often rousing, and steadily evocative soundtrack that underscores the spiritual expectations and unravelling lies.

Rufus Norris’s deft and assured direction takes Baldwin’s moralistic narrative and creates indelible moments which leap from the stage beyond the confines of the script and holds the audience in its gaze revealing, albeit fleetingly, a raw glimpse of what it was to be poor in a time during which African Americans were still referred to as Negroes.

This is a play that takes the roof off of the Olivier theatre with performances that pull no punches and makes for a joyous, electrifying and emotional night of theatre.

Get up, get out, go and see it. Amen

© Pamela Jikiemi 2013
Reviewed 7pm Tuesday 11th June 2013.

The National Theatre Production of “The Amen Corner” by James Baldwin, Directed by Rufus Norris, playing until 14th August, the Olivier Theatre.

Cast

Margaret Alexander - Marianne Jean-Baptiste
Odessa - Sharon D Clarke
Ida Jackson - Naana Agyei-Ampadu
Sister Moore - Cecilia Noble
Sister Boxer - Jacqueline Boatswain
Brother Boxer - Donovan F Blackwood
David - Eric Kofi Abrefa
Luke - Lucian Msamati
Sister Sally - Cherrelle Skeete
Sister Douglas - Miquel Brown
Sister Rice - Katrina Beckford
Brother Davis - Everal A Walsh
Brother Washington - Delroy Atkinson
Ensemble - Lisa Davinia Phillip, Sarah Quist
Daniel Ward, Angela Wynter

Musicians

Tim Sutton - Piano/Music Director
Byron Wallen - Trumpet
Joseph Roberts - Bass
London Community Gospel Choir

Director - Rufus Norris
Set Designer - Ian MacNeil
Costume Designer - Joan Wadge
Lighting Director - Paul Anderson
Music Supervisor & Vocal Arranger - The Reverend Bazil Meade
Movement - Coral Messam
Sound Designer - Simon Baker
Company Voice Work - Kate Godfrey
Dialect Coach - Jeannette Nelson

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Author's review: 
4