Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford – until 19 October 2019
Reviewed by Heather Chalkley
August Wilson provides a window into the lives of black Americans, living through historic moments in different decades, in a series of plays referred to as The Pittsburgh Cycle. Two Trains Running is based in the 60’s, on the cusp of the civil rights era giving way to The Black Power movement. Director Nancy Wilson has caught the mood of the moment, bringing passion, frustration, fear and hope into the every day, neighbourhood diner of Lower Hill District.
Leon Herbert (Holloway) gives resounding monologues, capturing the audience in his grasp with the fervour and pride in his war cry ‘they will pay my price’. Again later in his triumph in winning his battle with rich developers who wanted to knock down his diner. The young man Sterling (Michael Salami) is about the same age as the writer (Wilson) at this time and is said to embody his ardour and intensity, not least his humour. Salami is a tall and strong man that manages to bring a youthful, gangliness to his character Sterling – you can’t help but like him. Ray Emmet Brown gives Wolf a natural swagger that takes you straight back to that era. He perfectly narrates the historical junctures unfolding around them. Hambone (Derek Ezenagu) gives the piece a certain realism, evidence that life takes it toll in many forms. He gives the neighbourhood a tangible reason to bond together in life and death. Risa (Anita-Joy Uwajeh) remains her own person throughout, a symbol of female strength and fortitude.
The creative team have produced an amazing set, atmospheric and believable. A great balance of sound tracks coming from outside deliver history into the room.
In some ways this play reflects present day events. We are living through the long term impact of austerity, the uncertainty of Brexit and major town centre redevelopments all over the UK. Extinction Rebellion are giving the fear and anger of our young people a channel to protest for their future. It is worth reflecting on the fact that without the Civil Rights Era, Extinction Rebellion probably wanted exist.