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Review: Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

Posted on 31 May 2010 by Jake Orr

Joe Turner's Come and Gone

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone now playing at the Young Vic Theatre is what we call good, solid theatre. There are no tricks, no gimmicks, no technology to enchant the audience. No. What there is however is a formidable cast working with a brilliantly written text and  theatre directed to perfection. This is a no thrills piece of theatre that gives the audience everything they want for a night out.

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone is a must see.

Written by August Wilson Joe Turner… is set in Pittsburgh where the living is simple but the dramas are not quite so easy going. Herold Loomis caught some seven years ago by Joe Turns Slave Gang has finally been set loose and is searching for the wife he left behind before his enslavement. Herold and his daughter land up at a bed and board house owned by Seth and Bertha Holly. The play revolves around the comings and goings of the various inhabitants of the boarding home as Herold struggles to come to turns with the possibility that he will never find his wife, or will he?

David Lan, artistic director of the Young Vic Theatre, jumps into the reigns as director for Joe Turner and the outcome is something that is so full of warmth and heart that you’d be hard pushed to not enjoy the performance. His direction is simple, yet thoroughly routed in the depth of the characters portrayed in Wilson’s writing. Lan teases out the humour of the story and the characters, bringing the inhabitants of the boarding home to life and full of wonderful charm.

There really is no other way to describe Joe Turner… other than honest. From the moment you step into the auditorium and are met with Patrick Burnier’s wonderful design which incorporates the whole auditorium from the centre of the stage, through the seating, right to the edges of the wall, you know this is going to be good. The floor of the auditorium has been replaced with a rich red earth heavily laid making your experience to your seat quite a joy – and even more so when you realise the seats are set within this earth. The design reflects the history of the characters in Wilson’s play – the rich red earth representing Africa and a distant native home land. Everything else is remarkably simple in the design, aside from a wondrous bridge high in the rigging of the lights, that represents a train and the turning of time with the lights flashing from one side to another. Simple, yet thrilling.

As for the casting, well, those people at the Young Vic certainly got a knock-out cast including Delroy Lindo as the eccentric Bynum, Adjoa Andoh as Bertha and Danny Sapani as Seth. These three command the space, and offer such joy that you’ll be hard put not to laugh and joke with them. Of course, Joe Turner… isn’t all that funny, there is a sad story running throughout and the ending might just jerk a tear out of you when Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as Herald Loomis deliverers a pounding monologue of enslavement, and the need to be free.

There are moments within Joe Turner… that surely raise the roof of the Young Vic, most notably a raucous dance where the cast praise their living and sing to the heavens above – we are left with feet tapping and our hearts truly lifted. What is wonderful about this performance is just how real it all seems. With Lindo’s acting you are in for a treat, and coupled with the comical character of Seth in the hands of Sapani laughs aren’t far behind.

In keeping with Wilson’s text Lan’s direction is subtle. It is as if he has lifted the play from the very roots of Pittsburgh and plonked it down at the Young Vic unscathed. In fact, so well does it fit within Burnier’s design and Tim Suttons music along with Gareth Fry’s sound, that it is as if the cast have been born out of the very earth the audience sit upon.

Rich of talent and energy, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone is a night worth spending at the Young Vic. Be quick though, tickets are sure to sell out quickly.

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone is playing at the Young Vic until 3rd July. Tickets for the first two weeks are only £15. See the Young Vic website for more details.

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

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