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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Old Vic Theatre     Summer 2022

Itís the late 1970s in Pittsburgh's Hill district in August Wilsonís play Jitney co-produced by the Old Vic, Headlong and Leeds Playhouse.

In the box-like waiting room of an unlicensed cab office (the jitney), men wait for the phone call that will give them work. They bicker, joke and swap stories.

The early banter entertains us as it introduces us to various characters and their community before focusing on a few particular strands of the story.

Thereís Turnbo (Sule Rimi), the restless middle-aged gossip, easily irritated and often irritating others. Among those he irritates is the confident Vietnam veteran Youngblood (Solomon Israel), who is determined to change his circumstances.

The easy-going older driver Doub (Geoff Aymer), veteran of the Korean War, recalls chilling memories of having to stack bodies in six-high piles.

The jitney office is in an area under threat from redevelopers who have given Becker a month before they will board up the premises. Becker and the men have to decide whether to leave or stay and make a fight of it.

Turnbo tries to stir up trouble by telling Youngbloodís girlfriend Rena (Leanne Henlon) that he has seen her partner out with her sister. To make matters worse she finds he has taken the grocery money to pay a debt.

It's enough to have Rena arguing with Youngblood before he tells her of a pleasant surprise he has planned for her, one that she loves while reminding him that women should be consulted on decisions that concern all the family.

Jim Becker (Wil Johnson), patient, wise and kind, occasionally intervenes to calm disputes among the drivers. But we see a more emotional side when his son Booster (performed by the understudy Blair Gyabaah) returns after spending twenty years in prison for shooting dead his white girlfriend for falsely claiming he had raped her.

Jim is still appalled at what his son did and regards it as a betrayal of all his efforts to make a better life for his family.

This is a fine and at times lyrical play from 1982 which reached Broadway in 2017. Its two hours forty-five minutes running time flies past. Itís well worth seeing. 

Keith McKenna

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Review of  Jitney - Old Vic Theatre 2022

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