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The Mountaintop review at the Other Room, Cardiff – ‘a resonant revival’

Alexandria Riley and Mensah Bediako in The Mountaintop at the Other Room, Cardiff. Photo: Aenne Pallasca

Fio’s revival of Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop opens days before another version opens at London’s Young Vic.

The play depicts a meeting between Martin Luther king on the last night of his life and the maid at the motel in which he’s staying.  Hall’s depiction of the civil rights campaigner is a complex one. His faults – including his extra-marital affairs – are not glossed over, and his unpopular stance on the Vietnam War also gets mentioned.As King, Mensah Bediako carries himself with the upright posture of a man used to standing on a podium. His intermittent hoarseness hints at the monumental energy the great orator expends each day.

It’s Alexandria Riley who steals the show though, as Camae, the maid. Her words tumble out in a rhythmic fashion that often softens the seriousness of the message being delivered. Riley switches easily between slick one-liners and orders given with a maternal sternness. Her performance of the play’s poetic final passage chronicling 20th century American history is powerful yet understated.

Though the Cardiff venue is a pub theatre of just 44 seats, Stacey-Jo Atkinson’s set design makes much of the small space, employing forced perspective by angling the walls of the motel room. The video projections by Zakk Hein are less successful. Whilst well-executed, the more surrealist images jar with the rest of the design. Simpler pictures, like one of falling rain, are more effective. Despite this, Abdul Shayek’s production is a strong one that drills home Dr King’s repeated line: “We’ve still got so much work to do.”

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Verdict
An engaging, strongly performed production of Katori Hall’s resonant play
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