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THE LONG ROAD SOUTH – King’s Head Theatre, London.

Cornelius-Macarthy-as-Andre-Michael-Brandon-as-Jake-Price-2A clammy, balmy atmosphere permeates the stage space in Civil Rights drama The Long Road South. Set across a hot afternoon and evening in Indianapolis in 1965, Paul Minx’s script traces the plight, primarily at least, of Andre White (Cornelius Macarthy), and his girlfriend Grace Banks (Krissi Bohn). Together, they are a black couple bidding adieu to their white employers as they head south and join the Civil Rights movement. All that is needed is a final bit of housekeeping, both metaphorically as well as literally. What could go wrong?

Well, for a start, there is the patriarchal head of the family. The man of the Price family house is husband and father Jake (Michael Brandon) and he is a middle-aged man protective of his teenage daughter, Ivy (Lydea Perkins) – a coquettish, demanding and sexually curious young thing – and dismissive of his wife, Carol (Imogen Stubbs), who herself is nurturing a worrying alcohol problem.

It is a dysfunctional family both coiled up and bristling with tension as they battle their personal, divergent and conflicting issues. The presence of Andre and Grace only adds further spice to this disturbing melting pot. It is easy to observe that there is a wonderful chemistry at play between Andre and Grace. Grace is an aspiring writer lured to the promising ideals of the movement in the south. Andre is an expert of the bible, slightly naïve, but full of good, honourable intention, even when Ivy threatens reputational ruin for Andre with a tall tale. Whilst Andre’s cause is the heart of the piece, the material somehow manages to measure sympathy elsewhere too.

Long Road South gathers momentum, as the general pervasive sense of dread propels the narrative towards its potent denouement. That said, there are broad caricatures at play here, and that does stand as a complaint. Yet, to be fair to the medium of Theatre, this is an essential shortcut when condensing a complicated subject matter into 90 minutes of drama. There is a need to rattle through clearly divisible personality lines so to enable the conflict to brew expeditiously.

Therefore, whilst the character traits/wiles may lack nuance, there is enough here that merits positive attention. Economically, but effectively, directed by Sarah Berger, and presented by a cast of considerable pedigree, Paul Minx’s work is an unsettling, absorbing tale of the call of duty in the face of a stifling, unjust status quo.

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Reviewed 15/01/16

By Greg Wetherall

12th – 30th January 2016
Kings Head Theatre, N1 1QN.

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