The Long Road South, King’s Head Theatre, review: ‘A taut picture of drip-fed prejudice’

The Long Road South. Picture: Truan Munro

The Long Road South. Picture: Truan Munro - Credit: Archant

David Winskill enjoys this tale of black domestic servants battling with their dysfunctional white employers at the height of America’s civil rights struggle.

Set in sultry 1965 Indiana, the opening action takes place on the patio of the Price family home; Sprited, manipulative Ivy, depicted with skill by Lydea Perkins as a knowing Lolita is toying provocatively with black gardener Andre. He’s been tutoring her for a bible-speaking contest and has produced flash cards to test her knowledge of the scriptures. His dignity, physical charm and masculine self-awareness make him a sexual target during these extracurricular activities.

They are joined by Ivy’s alcoholic mother Carol Ann – a vision in a revealing lime green gown but as Ivy observes, ”Lime green does not look nice on any living human being.”

Writer Paul Minx trades in show-stopping sharp and hilarious dialogue “Jesus would eat a salad if he was here. He wasn’t just a meat-and-potatoes man.”

Grace the militant maid is pushing Andre to travel south to join the growing civil rights movement in Alabama. But first the couple must get their back wages from bigoted Jake Price. The exchanges between André, Grace and Jake are deeply uncomfortable and froze the opening night audience to silence.

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Against a background of Andre’s weakness and the disintegration of the dysfunctional Price family, Minx draws a brilliant picture of slow burning, drip-fed prejudice that occasionally explodes into full-on violence and racist abuse.

Sarah Berger’s taut production is well acted. Cornelius Macarthy and Krissi Bohn shine as the domestic servants thrown together in an institutionally hostile world but determined to change it against overwhelmingly loaded odds.

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Brandon makes an obnoxious but vulnerable patriarch a seeming alpha male who is really a scared, pitiful little boy.

And Imogen Stubbs is magnificent as Carol Ann, her drawling, drunken perfectly timed delivery: “I don’t drink ... I imbibe” offers a compelling portrait of a woman slowly falling apart.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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