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The Amen Corner, National Theatre

James Baldwin 
Directed by Rufus Norris  

Pros: A unique and remarkable script, exceptional performances and gorgeous costumes with the best live jazz you’ll find in London town.

Cons: Literally nothing.

Our Verdict: We love the National and yet this production surpasses even its own high standards. This is an unforgettable evening of first class theatre.

Courtesy of The National Theatre

‘Some of the congregation are sick in the body, some are sick in the soul.’

The Amen Corner has already begun even before we enter the auditorium. A group of smartly dressed men and women are gathered on the stage, fanning themselves under the dusty Harlem heat. The set is visually stunning – the interior of a Methodist church with a large congregation of enthusiastic believers eagerly awaiting the word of the Lord.

It is important to note that this is not a play written specifically for god-fearing audiences, nor is it an open critique of religious institutions and its members. I feel that this is worth mentioning because, as an atheist myself, I tend to avoid this subject entirely and there are many out there who feel the same. The Amen Corner is a show which deals with many issues, but primarily it is a story about human nature.

Margaret is a charismatic pastor who spreads the word of god to her flock with infectious enthusiasm. Her dedication to the cause is admirable and her sermons are filled with drama and style. I cannot say enough good things about Marianne Jean-Baptiste who embodies this role so entirely, bringing truth, tragedy and enormous depth to the character. The script is incredibly funny so playing the lead role while also being the straight guy can be a very tough job. Jean-Baptiste is supported by a remarkable cast of performers who provide much of the comedy, most notably Cecilia Noble who had the audience eagerly awaiting her every word and Sharon D. Clarke who, in a way, is the rock of the story.

It is Margaret’s family difficulties and godless past which is at the heart of the story. Her estranged husband Luke has come back into her life, bringing unwanted drama with him as he struggles with alcoholism and related health problems. Lucian Msamati is pitch perfect as the wayward jazz musician who, interestingly, is the only character who fully understands Margaret and still loves her, despite her faults. Like all of the characters in this play, he is extremely likable in his own unique way and it is through his honesty and integrity that we learn the truth about their marriage. He not only loves and understands her, but he is literally the only one who can connect with their son, David. Margaret, like a lot of zealously religious parents, desperately wishes her son to have the same enthusiasm. David, however, is a closet agnostic and wishes to find his own way in life.

Rufus Norris has done a terrific job in gathering together an astounding cast to deliver a show which will transport you into another world. Excellent 1950’s costumes from Joan Wadge and a brilliant set from Ian MacNeil make everything very nice to look at while the lighting design by Paul Anderson makes us feel like we really are in sun-drenched Harlem. One of the best decisions in this production was to include live jazz musicians. Their sumptuous tones almost became a character in themselves while adding real emotional depth to some of the darker scenes. The gospel singing is heavenly and the musical talents of the actors on stage cannot receive any justice from my feeble attempts at a description. There are no weak links in this cast or indeed in the production as a whole. This is a show which the National Theatre should be especially proud of.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below!

The Amen Corner runs at The National Theatre until 14th August 2013.

Box office 020 7452 3000 or book online at http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/the-amen-corner?dates#tabpos

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