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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the National Theatre (Cottesloe)

By Matt Wolf

  Don Warrington stars in Statement Of Regret

Ghosts figure prominently in this latest play by Kwame Kwei-Armah, the third in a trilogy of works to have had a significant perch at the National's Cottesloe auditorium, and I don't just mean the ghost elegantly played by Oscar James during the play itself. (Anyone unclear about that character's spectral presence will glean as much from the curtain call, during which the actor deliberately stands well apart from his castmates.) For all that the suited black British characters exist an ocean apart - and an economic class or two above - the black milieu unforgettably chronicled in the US by the late August Wilson, Statement of Regret seems in numerous ways to want to answer many of Wilson's ongoing concerns, adapting them for a UK audience. The result makes for an intriguing theatrical case of call-and-response, whereby one feels very directly the cultural and thematic baton being passed from one important dramatist to another. The falling off - and, alas, there is one- can be gleaned from a title from Kwei-Armah that, before anything has even happened, gives his play the whiff of a position paper, whereas Wilson, as we all know, was first and always a bluesy, ballsy poet.

That's not to say there isn't real drama in Statement of Regret: some may find the ending in fact a bit overripe for comfort- even if, again, the pyrotechnics sparked in the closing moments owe more than a little to some of Wilson's more explosive finales (in The Piano Lesson, say). But all too often one feels the actual cut-and-thrust of theater at its most vital giving way to a history lesson as proffered by an impassioned professor with lots he wants to be impart. Kwei-Armah is up to-the-minute in his analysis of a Wilsonian constant: namely, the need for the black community to connect up to its slave-ridden past so as to be able to move toward any kind of proper future. But even Jeremy Herrin's well-paced, briskly acted production can't forestall one's sense of numerous points being ticked off some predetermined list, as if Kwei-Armah had taken an additional leaf this time from David Hare, another writer whose own authorial voice sometimes comes crashing in on that of his characters. (Perhaps it's no accident, then, that Herrin has been tapped to direct the UK bow in January at the Royal Court of Hare's recent Broadway entry, The Vertical Hour.)

Kwei-Armah, a sometime actor himself, certainly writes playable scenes, and you can feel the relish of an all-black company tearing into the kinds of roles that come their way all too rarely on the British stage. The play's focal character is Kwaku Mackenzie (a riveting Don Warrington), the heavy-drinking, philandering founder of a London-based political think tank whose employees include not just Kwaku's powerhouse of a wife (Ellen Thomas bats every moment of that underwritten role out of the playhouse) but two sons, one of whom is illegitimate. That's younger child Adrian (Clifford Samuel), an Oxford graduate whom Kwaku brings on board as an intern, much to the immediate consternation of virtually all the other inhabitants of Mike Britton's sleek, split-level set. Adrian's faintly pompous mien doesn't sit well with older son Kwaku Junior (Javone Prince), who couches his feeling of educational inferiority behind a swagger indicative of tensions that existed long before this half-sibling suddenly arrived on the scene. The senior Kwaku doesn't help matters much by carrying on first with a female employee, Issimama -Angel Coulby is immediately arresting in that part - and losing his c


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