BWW Review: ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI, Bristol Old Vic
It's 1964 and Cassius Clay has just beaten the odds to become Heavyweight Champion of the World. But, instead of celebrating on the town, he's in a hotel room with star NFL running back Jim Brown, soul icon Sam Cooke and Muslim minister and activist Malcolm X.
There's an air of celebration between this group of friends, all except Malcolm X, who is studiously checking the room for bugs. Because for all the fame and fortune in the room, these four black men are still on the fringes of society. Malcolm X admonishes the younger Sam Cooke for his partying habits - they may happily take his money in the club but they sure won't let him stay in the hotel upstairs.
Malcolm keeps on pushing. Why does Cooke play his songs differently for white people? Is he really happy not being able to live in Beverly Hills where all the other famous white folk of LA reside? But Cooke is not persuaded- his success has given him his freedom. Their methods different, but their goals the same.
Kemp Powers' fictional account of a real night sizzles in the Miami heat with tension as these four men go round after round on how real change might be achieved. Cassius Clay's imminent conversion and name change troubles his friends but it's a coup for Malcolm X to have brought him into the Nation of Islam.
Powers directs performances of the play to be in one act, yet here it is split in two, leaving a short and under-powered second half. No sooner have you settled back into the rhythms of the play, is it reaching its conclusion.
This is not down to a lack of conviction from the well assembled cast. Matt Henry understandably stands out as Cooke- his voice soaring in the intimate confines of the Bristol Old Vic. Christopher Colquhoun is persuasive as a pious and passionate Malcolm X who has a clear sense of foreboding (he would later be assassinated by three members of the Nation of Islam).
Neatly directed by Matthew Xia, this revival asks pertinent questions about societal change and how to achieve it. Those questions land squarely in the chest in Bristol, a city having conversations about its past and how it affects its future. Hopefully in the future, in the words of Cooke, a change is gonna come.