Joel Drake Johnson’s sharply written play examines closely the relationship between black and white people – giving the audience cause to think about their own attitudes…
Making its UK premiere at the trafalgar Studios, Joel Drake Johnson’s play couldn’t be more timely given the fact that attitudes towards race while slowly changing is still a far cry from equality that is needed. But this isn’t just a play about white people’s attitude towards black people – but also about how suspicion and mistrust exist on the part of black people towards white people.
Subtly directed by Jonathan O’Boyle, Rasheeda Speaking shows the deterioration of the friendship between Jaclyn (Tanya Moodie) and Ileen (Elizabeth Berrington) once she is forced to spy on Jaclyn on behalf of Doctor Williams (Bo Poraj) who wants to get rid of her. But it soon turns nasty and questions of race are raised, subtly shown through suspicion, weariness and mistrust on all sides.
What makes this play such an engaging watch is the way it doesn’t feel the need to shout what it is saying, but rather hides under barbed humour to make its point, gradually amping up the tension to great effect until the climatic scene. Jonathan O’Boyle knows exactly how to keep the tension up, by ensuring the pace is snappy and the production remains focused at all times – it is a subtle production that allows the message of the play and the characters to take centre stage perfectly.
Over the course of the hour and a half, the audience can see how the characters change as the situation develops. Ileen’s attitude in particular is fascinating to watch change from someone who is willing to make allowances for Jaclyn’s behaviour to that of someone who fears what she is capable of – allowing some prejudices she didn’t know she had to come through slightly. In contrast, the audience can see Jacyln’s increasing paranoia and frustration as Ileen strips away her responsibilities and self-confidence -particularly shown as she talks about the attitudes of people on the bus to her and others.
The fact that the audience is thoroughly engaged with everything that each character says is credit to the performances of all involved. Tanya Moodie is wonderful as the larger than life Jaclyn subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) challenging Ileen’s changing attitude and delivering her lines with great understanding and depth with undertones of anger. But she also showcases the character’s vulnerability as seen as she searches for Ileen’s notebook with notes about her in it – that really highlights the character’s lack of self confidence.
Elizabeth Berrington is equally fascinating to watch as Ileen too becomes increasingly paranoid, eventually wanting to take extraordinary lengths to protect herself. The audience gradually feels her sense of superiority – even when she doesn’t intervene with situations or say a word – its powerful and it makes the audience question how they would handle a situation like this.
With many moments that hit a powerful punch, Rasheeda Speaking is powerful and thoughtful piece of drama, designed to make audiences re-evaluate their own attitudes. Well worth paying a visit to the Trafalgar Studios for.
Rasheeda Speaking will play at the Trafalgar Studios until the 12th May. To book tickets click here or visit ATG Tickets , Encore Tickets , Love Theatre.com , Theatre Tickets Direct.co.uk or From the Box Office .