Saturday, 27 February 2010
1867, based on an extraordinary figure from America’s past is ironically reflective of modern multi cultural London; an asian director, a white playwright and a predominantly black cast. The play written by Theresa Roche is a play of firsts. This is Roche’s debut inspired by the true story of America’s first female self made millionaire, Madam CJ Walker. Roche and Palladini productions do a good job of breathing life into a story that has gathered dust between the pages of American history books.
Madame CJ Walker was a black woman who made her name and fortune by selling her own range of hair care products and cosmetics. The play centres on Delilah McAndrew, the Walker reincarnation and starts by depicting her humble beginnings and her struggle to create a better life for herself. Delilah, a child of former slaves is a heroine that the audience immediately connects with; an illiterate laundry maid who dares to want the moon. The early part of the play is full of frenetic snapshots of the young Delilah’s life. Projected images hover above as though they too will fill the stage and yet appear conflictingly distant in their black and white style, the set is minimal and actors burst on and off like precocious gusts of wind. As the play transitions from one period of Delilah’s life to another it just gets better and better. By turns comical, heartbreaking and moving. Roche has produced a well written, engrossing play and apart from the occasional slip into an English accent by one or two actors, the performances overall do her writing justice.
The two actresses who play the young and older Delilah Isaura Barbe Brown and Aja Huston give fantastic performances. Tanya Lauretta Duff who plays Victoria Da Silva, a businesswoman responsible for Delilah’s first break almost pulls off a show stealing performance. Houston as Delilah in her womanhood and all it entails captures her spirit, ambition, fearlessness, tenacity and vulnerability. Possessing all the ingredients of a champion, she is brilliantly human and flawed; her battles are not only racial but fascinating from a feminist perspective. She is a woman fighting against the odds, a tireless advocate of black causes who makes her presence felt in the white house. By the end of the play you want to know even more about Delilah; to smooth the peaks and troughs of her character with the palm of your hand, to hold her still. A fitting tribute to Madame CJ Walker, an inspiration the moon still smiles for.