9 October 2014

The Scottsboro Boys at the Garrick Theatre mixed light presentation with dark content to make grey entertainment


I would not normally go to a show like The Scottsboro Boys but I went this time because it had got some very good reviews which had led to the show moving to a West End slot after first appearing at the Young Vic where it sold out. I also had the chance of some cheap tickets through work and that was the final nudge that I needed to go.

Getting tickets via work is always a compromise. I get cheaper seats but they are in parts of the theatre that I would not normally choose. On balance, the reduced price is worth the uncertain seating. This time I paid £17.50 (comfortably under my £25 limit) for a seat in row M. This had a corridor in front of it so I had plenty of legroom. The raking was not that good, it rarely is in old theatres, but I still had a good view of the stage and I was happy with the deal.

The show was another matter.

The immediate impression was of the old Black and White Minstrel Show that I used to watch regularly in the 70s (we did not have many channels then!) as the almost entirely black cast gathered on stage to present a show to us. There was lots of banter between them and some slapstick too.

They then proceeded to tell us the story of The Scottsboro Boys. These were a group of young men, some very young, who met while train hopping from the south to the north looking for work. At one stop a woman made a false accusation against them and the rest of the play covered their time in prison and at a succession of trials.

The mood was always very light despite the dark subject and a lot of the characters were exaggerated for comic effect. I found the comedy too simplistic, much like the TV sitcoms of the 70's (things like The Dick Emery Show) and it jarred with the serious story being played out.

Things took an even more bizarre turn when the black actors blacked-up in the style of the Black and White Minstrel Show for one of their songs.

And just when you thought that things could not get any more weird it was revealed that this was a true story of racial discrimination from Alabama in the 30s. So it was a dark tale, and a tale that deserved to be told, but I simply do not understand why it was chosen to tell it in this frivolous way.

I never squared the dark content with the light presentation and, for me, the show did absolutely nothing.

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