The struggle between hope, idealism and being human are at the heart of Katori Hall’s timely new play, in which the charismatic David Harewood takes on the role of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
It’s 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, and the preacher ‘King’ is at the heart of his campaign for equal rights for black Americans, but spends his evenings holed up inside a scummy motel. When a vivacious but secretive maid Camae (Lorraine Burroughs) arrives, they flirt, fight and bond over their shared experiences of white oppression. Hall’s imaginative script highlights the hypocrisies of both characters, but also celebrates the power of faith in a way that is truly inspirational.
Harewood has a great deal of presence and poise, effectively capturing King’s famed style of speech, but also the sense of a man at the end of a long and challenging struggle. Burroughs has a great range of emotions and provides a burst of joyous energy throughout.
In a beautifully staged final scene, Hall’s play ponders how far we have come since King’s death and whether the arrival of the first black president really means racial discrimination is over. It’s impossible not to notice that the majority of tonight’s audience are black - presumably drawn to a play about a black icon - but also the absence of many white faces. This is a shame as here is a play with both universal themes and wide-ranging appeal.