Fast forward to 2016: the Black Lives Matter movement is
soberingly necessary, white supremacists have a powerful, potentially
presidential, new pin-up – and Kemp Powers’ potent play about one night back in
1964 is unnervingly prescient. Perhaps
more impressively, the political punch is delivered with plenty of humorous,
A real life encounter between boxer Muhammad Ali, activist
Malcolm X, soul singer Sam Cooke and American Football star Jim Brown forms the
backdrop for One Night in Miami.
Playwright Kemp Powers imagines the conversations played out
behind the closed doors of the hotel room on the night 22-year-old Cassius Clay
was declared the Heavyweight Champion of the world. The next day, as history
records, he announced his conversion to Islam and renamed himself Muhammad
We are given a fly-on-the-wall view into the exchanges
between the four, now mythic, men.
It takes a few minutes to adjust to the macho jesting, as
Clay (Sope Dirisu) re-enacts the glory moments from his fight, with a benignly
boyish flash of hubris and excitement.
Thanks to exceptional performances all round the play is an
intimate insight into the dynamic between four friends, and a thought-provoking
exploration of the ‘right’ way to be free. David Ajala raises laughs as tough-guy athlete Jim Brown,
while Arinzé Kene is pure soulful charisma as singer Sam Cooke. Amidst these
vibrant, talented young men, Malcolm X, played with twitchy intensity by
Francois Battiste, unsettles the celebrations.
Debates around issues of race form the crux of the drama,
yet the characters never feel like mouthpieces for philosophies and ideals.
A simple but effective hotel room set creates a sense of
containment. With a stage populated by black men, the white world beyond is
conjured only through descriptions of prejudice and abuse. The result is a
sense of ‘us and them’ separation.
As we gazed around the audience, dominated by the typical
white-wash of most West End theatres, the division felt palpable.
Not that any audience member is being lectured nor battered
into a particular conclusion. Instead One Night in Miami floats,
butterfly-like, between lightness and profundity, and leaves you with a stinging
sense of relevance and irresolution.
|What||One Night in Miami, Donmar Theatre review|
41 Earlham Street, Seven Dials, London, WC2H 9LX | MAP
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
06 Oct 16 – 03 Dec 16, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
|Price||£7.50 - £60+|
|Website||Click here to book via the Donmar|