BWW Review: TWO TRAINS RUNNING, Royal And Derngate
The autumn is underway at Northampton's Royal and Derngate with a touring production of August Wilson's Pulitzer-shortlisted Two Trains Running.
Set in Lower Hill in Pittsburgh in 1969, all the action takes place in Memphis Lee's café, once a bustling hub of the community, but now struggling to survive as a result of urban renewal and race riots.
Directed by Nancy Medina (winner of the 2018 Sir Peter Hall Director Award), over the course of nearly three hours, you see the café's characters wrestle with the realities of their everyday life and how they choose to face its challenges - all inside Frankie Bradshaw's amazing and atmospheric set.
The city is trying to buy the café and Memphis is determined to get his due, Wolf is running numbers for the local mob, and Sterling is just out of jail and trying to start over at a time when legitimate jobs are hard to find - while trying to win over Risa, the long-suffering cook/waitress. Hambone wants the ham he's been owed by a white man for a decade, and in the corner Holloway sits and offers advice that people don't want to take. The only person who's doing well is West, the undertaker.
There is not a weak performance in the cast, but I found my eye constantly drawn to Anita-Joy Uwajeh's Risa, who doesn't have the most lines, but is always there, observing, reacting and giving the audience clues about the reality behind the men's boasts.
Every character has moments to shine and take centre stage, but Andrew French's Memphis is perhaps the most complex - longing for the farm he was forced to leave, he's fighting with the world for his rights and the money for his future, but treating Risa as badly as he feels he is treated by others and meddling with her life.
For the most part, the dialogue is delivered at breathtaking speed and the single location forces the audience to concentrate on the words and their meaning. I found that, despite the rapid fire dialogue, the show sagged a little in places, but the performances were so powerful that I was swept along.
Two Trains Running at Royal and Derngate until 14 September and then touring
Photo credit Manuel Harlan