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It was brave of Theresa Heskins, its outgoing artistic director, to reposition Pentabus from a simple touring outfit serving principally the English-Welsh border region to a new writing company. One suspects that its principal constituency may be rather conservative in that respect, as in a number of others. Indeed, that is pretty much the subject of these seven 10-minute monologues by different writers: their primary topic is rural racism. But as matters are portrayed here, ethnicity often seems simply to be one more easy identifier for an attitude towards “incomers” in general – three of the protagonists seem to encounter awkwardness for being Londoners as much as for being black or Asian.
As usual with such collections, the evening proves a bit of a mixed bag. Courttia Newland’s A Question of Courage, excellently performed by Jimmy Akingbola, uses town/country and black/white oppositions as a way into considering broader matters of personal relationships and sexuality. In The Management Reserve the Right by Richard Rai O’Neill, Habib Nasib Nader gives a very canny performance, appearing to play his role as the black landlord of a chain-owned village pub for laughs – until it is revealed that the prejudice in question is not towards him but towards travellers who want to drink there.
In Joy’s Prayer by Ian Marchant, Jean Boht is as simple and as powerful as I have seen her on stage, explaining to God that she cannot in conscience s
erve Him in the village church as long as a racist priest remains.
Conversely, Rommi Smith’s Mountain Knows Me is a crass old-codger rant modulated by some equally unsubtle nostalgia; and Letting Yourself Go by Kara Miller, in which a middle-aged woman’s fit of rage in the village shop is simply the symptom of a minor breakdown due to spousal abuse and adultery, ticks all the boxes rather too neatly. Heskins’ unfussy production (her last before taking over the reins at the New Vic in the Potteries) lets the words speak for themselves; when they do, they suggest that sometimes one’s assumptions about rural attitudes can be confounded by openness and welcome . . . just as, perhaps, Pentabus’s new writing ventures have been. ★★★☆☆
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