Review: Jitney at the Old Vic

Thursday, 23rd June — By Lucy Popescu

Jitney_Leanne Henlon as Rena and Sule Rimi as Turnbo

Leanne Henlon as Rena and Sule Rimi as Turnbo in Jitney. Photo: Manuel Harlan

JITNEY
Old Vic Theatre
☆☆☆☆

August Wilson’s early drama, set in a 1970s Pittsburgh taxi office, explores the tension and camaraderie between a group of black men trying to keep themselves and their families afloat.

Jitneys were unlicensed cabs providing low fare rides to the African American community. Alex Lowde’s detailed set is adorned with notices: “Do not drink”, “No overcharging”, “Be courteous” and a pay phone that never stops ringing.

Turnbo (Sule Rimi) is always poking his nose into other’s business. The way Youngblood (Solomon Israel) treats his girlfriend Rena (Leanne Henlon) drives him wild. Fielding (Tony Marshall) risks getting fired by having one “nip” too many, while Doub (Geoff Aymer) just wants a quiet life.

At the centre of them all is 60-something Becker (Wil Johnson), a well-respected, plain-speaking man, who runs the jitney station. He’s worried about the city folk who want to gentrify the area and bulldoze his humble office.

When his son Booster (Leemore Marrett Jr) turns up after 20 years in jail for killing the white girlfriend who falsely accused him of rape, Becker’s world is thrown into disarray.

Booster wants his father’s acceptance but Becker is unable to forgive him for breaking his mother’s heart. Their scene together is stunning theatre.

Wilson celebrates the strength of the black community as well as demonstrating the constant pressures of racism and poverty.

Tinuke Craig’s assured production sets a furious pace and it takes time to attune to the quickfire jibes – a shame given Wilson’s extraordinary ear for dialogue. The static setting means the men’s chat has to work doubly hard; revealing the world outside as much as the characters inside. It does, with wit and clarity.

UNTIL JULY 9
www.oldvictheatre.com

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