Angelina Weld Grimké’s Rachel, at the time of its inception, was a daring piece of theatre: a poignant expression of frustration at the racist persecution of black people in 1916. A perfect choice, therefore, for Finborough Theatre’s celebration of Black History Month.
Renowned for its fringe theatre, this is an institution unafraid of sticking its neck out. I was therefore expecting something special from the Finborough, maybe not perfect, but with a bit of a kick, I got an awkward, not entirely merit-free, poke. To give them their due, each actor had their independent virtues but, as an ensemble, despite glimmers of chemistry they never really gelled.
From the offset, the tone wasn’t right. The entire show happens in the front room of the Loving family, a neatly-put-together, one-room set. Rachel Loving, played by the beautiful Adelayo Adedayo, enters the stage sweetly but then it all seems to crumble. Her conversation with her mother, Miquel Brown, feels stilted, the anecdotes they share rarely of much note. The natural rhythm felt messed with, over-directed, like much of the play.
The male members of the cast were more convincing. Rachel’s brother Tom, Nakay Kpaka, a cheeky chappy and loving sibling, was great to watch, maybe a little exaggerated at times but playful with his family and impassioned by his sense of justice.
Rachel’s suitor, Mr. Strong, Zephryn Taitte, was the most well-rounded character, creating moments of humour and sadness. It was his pain I felt most at his darling’s slip from sanity. The Loving’s adopted son, played by Joel McDermott, seemed to struggle with his lines a little, his role suited a naïve and uneven delivery however so this barely compromised an otherwise endearing performance.
A great number of stretched speeches further compromised the flow. Emotions were declaimed with great purpose but suffered from jarring delivery. It wasn’t until the closing minutes that I felt the actors hit what they were looking for and that real feelings were playing out before me. It was just a shame it took 2 hours and 20 minutes to get there.
The script itself was old fashioned but perfectly accessible and appropriate. I left, affected more by the story than its performance, contemplating the injustices faced by the black community both then and now, but never truly affected by the drama of what I’d seen. 2/5
Review written by Harry Davies.
Rachel is currently showing at the Finborough Theatre until Saturday 25th October. For more information on the production, visit here…