Review – Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Young Vic

It’s a little bit difficult to quite work out what August Wilson’s play, now running at the Young Vic, is driving at. According to Wikipedia the key themes are identity, migration and racial discrimination – all of which is difficult to argue with, but there’s also a fair bit of discussion around religion, voodoo, post-traumatic stress disorder, loneliness, the meaning of life, the efficacy of pigeon blood in spiritualist sacrifice, Pittsburg labour relations, the nascent guitar music scene and the economics of the pot making industry.

Joe Turner
All of which is fine, except that it doesn’t really add up to a play with a coherent message (except that slavery is bad, I suppose). Despite that, Joe Turner is really rather good because what it does manage to do – and do very well – is offer an interesting insight into a time and a place and a generation and provide a wonderful canvas with which the excellent ensemble cast assembled here by David Lan can work. Each of the characters is interesting and compelling in their own right; all of the performances are solid, some are superb (Delroy Lindo, Adjoa Andoh, Danny Sapani) and one displays a rather terrifying level of intensity (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) – and it is this ensemble, and these stand out performances, which makes the production worth watching.

Staged in the round with unreserved seating and red earth covering the floor of the whole auditorium, the production is very Young Vic. Thankfully most of the challenges that usually threaten this sort of staging (not being able to see actors’ faces, not being able to hear actors speak, lights shining in your eyes, &c) are pretty well managed here, with Mike Gunning’s lighting deserving a special mention for being clever enough to notice but not clever enough to be intrusive.

Quite a few people seem to have really loved this show, with A Younger Theatre declaring it a “must see” and Charles Spencer decreeing it, somewhat grandly, “a play of great distinction”. I wouldn’t go out of my way to disagree, because this is a nicely done, well acted and interesting piece of work which the Young Vic should be proud of – but it really didn’t leave me with much more than that.

Having said that, it’s rather cheap so you might as well pop along.