Royal and Derngate Theatre, Northampton – until 14 September 2019
Reviewed by Boo Wakefield
Two Trains Running is the 6th of 10 plays that August Wilson wrote covering African-American experience from 1900 to 1990. There is no doubt, judging by the exuberant reactions of a handful of members of the audience I watched it with, that it is an intelligent production. That is to say, I sensed that my own intelligence was not quite up to the job of enjoying every nuance, but I nevertheless congratulated myself for at least being aware of the deficiency.
It is set in a run-down diner (designed by Frankie Bradshaw) in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, an area once vibrant but now fallen on hard times as the regeneration programme sweeps through, scattering communities and demolishing businesses. It is also a time of racial unrest and protest marches; the set has a wrecking ball and demolished buildings ominously above the ceiling to the diner.
The play focuses on Memphis (Andrew French) as the once successful diner owner who yearns after the better times and the land in the south that he lost in his youth. Memphis’s diner is to be demolished as part of the renewal programme and he is fighting for compensation from the city hall. Risa (Anita-Joy Uwajeh), his put-upon waitress, bears the brunt of his frustrations and serves the few remaining regular customers with sass and perfect timing, keeping them in their places.
Derek Ezenagu’s interpretation of the troubled Hambone was both moving and disturbing. For a part with so few words to have such a big impact on the play was impressive. Sterling (Michael Salami) was at his best when encouraging Hambone to speak.
This long play had moments of humour to lighten the serious stories played out. However, heavy accenting, speed of delivery and elocution did, at least to my ear, make following every word of the dialogue tricky and at times beyond me. I left the theatre feeing that more questions were left unanswered than answered.
This production of Two Trains Running was co-produced by Royal & Derngate and English Touring Theatre and will go on tour to Oxford, Doncaster, Ipswich, Guildford and Derby until the end of October.