Friday, 24 July 2009

To the Mountaintop.

To the Trafalgar Studios to see To The Mountaintop recently transferred form Theatre503. The play focuses on an imagined encounter between Martin Luther King and an angel, disguised as a chambermaid in Room 306 of the Lorianne Motel the night before his murder in 1968.

I visited the motel, now the Museum of Civil Rights, in Memphis last summer, but when the guided tour tried to take us into the room - I baulked and found it impossible to enter. Fortunately the guide allowed me to use a fire escape route to skip the shrine and take me directly to the gift shop. I can't explain why I couldn't cross the threshold - and I have no belief in evil as a force - but my protest in that moment was visceral, almost fibril, rather than intellectual. America was still to elect a black president.

So tonight, almost a year on and with Obama safely installed in the White Heart, it was weird to finally be taken into the room for this powerful and important play. The two central performances by David Harewood as the cadence inflected King and Lorraine Burroughs, as straight talking angel Camae are superb. Together the pair analyse the meaning of the seemingly prophetic Mountaintop speech, explore black history and consider possible futures, implicitly pulling the audience into a debate about the progress of civil rights in America over the forty years since the assassination.

At the end a standing ovation from a predominantly black audience, who clearly endorse the key message of the play, that although access to the promised land may have been hard won, Martin's dream must never be taken for granted.

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