The Long Song review – a lively and poignant staging of Andrea Levy’s novel | Theater
AAnother point in the tragedy of Andrea Levy’s death at the age of 62 is that an author whose work displays a rare combination of compelling narrative and historical urgency had no time than for five novels.
Some solace can be found in the longevity of this drama-adapted fiction. Small Island, winner of the 2004 Orange Levy Prize on Mid-20th Century Caribbean Emigrants to Britain, won the Double Cultural Gold Medal for BBC and National Theater Adaptations (where the 2019 production will be revived next year). The Long Song (2010), shortlisted by Booker, set on a 19th-century Jamaican plantation, was also adapted for prime-time television and is now receiving full-scale staging in Chichester.
Suhayla El-Bushra’s adaptation is a model of economy and fidelity, squeezing the 402-page book into 110 minutes (less than two-thirds of TV airing time) while maintaining the winding timeline of the original. , stories within stories and intrigue shocks involving the unveiling of a portrait and the raising of a silver dinner dome.
The framing is Jamaican printer-publisher Thomas Kinsman’s attempt to persuade centenary Miss July to tell her story for her book of Slave Tales. His participation is complicated by a reluctance to accept the term ‘slavery’ and mistrust about his personal and professional life, the script alerts to present questions about who has the right to recount the experience and for what purpose such stories are told.
In a decision that some may find controversial, the now taboo term “nigger” is commonly used, and the even more appalling N word is spoken 20 times, in white and colored type. The clear defense is that the times when people come up with the term unexpectedly illustrate the growth of racism. There are warnings at the door as well, and rows of shaking heads in the audience have suggested that the effects of aversion therapy were a more likely outcome than normalization.
After an extended apprenticeship on the radio and in supporting roles, Llewella Gideon gives a star performance as Old Miss July, alternately suspicious, playful and enraged while simultaneously suggesting both a former survivor and suddenly coming back to memory. to younger versions of herself. These are played in flashback by Tara Tijani, a drama school graduate this summer, who suggests big promise with a performance that captures the quick and agonizing calculations needed to survive in a world that allows it no value. Trevor Laird, as the elderly “leader” of the slave house, likewise projects the cunning and pride of someone who finds elements of power in an oppressive system. True to Levy’s scheme, the play allows agency and dignity within the violent victimization of slavery.
Charlotte Gwinner’s rhythmic directing makes English colonists, with sharp repair, relatively minor characters, but they strikingly include Miranda Foster and Olivia Poulet as snobbish Christian apologists for moral horror. Frankie Bradshaw’s ensemble is visually loaded back with a thick, tall line of candy canes that Mark Doubleday’s lighting dramatically subjects to sunrise, sunset, night, fire and rain. .
This vivid and disturbing version of La Longue Chanson is further compensation for a desperately shortened stream of novels.