What do you mean, you haven’t seen The Scottsboro Boys?

24 Oct

Some stories you know are going to be tough to take. You don’t need all the details beforehand, the historical touchpoints, the setting, the collective cultural consciousness (or do I mean conscience) is enough to put you on the right track. The story then sets to wring the emotional response from you drop by drop.

  You’re not going to get that with the Scottsboro Boys – well, you are, but not how you’d expect. Instead you’re going to get a show. And that’s where the genius lies. It’s like a mass reclamation of taboos – each turned on their heads and exaggerated for comic effect, which means you’re going to laugh, though maybe not straight away. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastically enjoyable spectacle, and the writing is funny, and the songs are funny, and the delivery is sublime.

But it makes you think. When the moment’s passed and the smile wanes it makes you think: what must it have been like, really? And that’s when you feel it. Because the subject is not funny. In the least.


Usually when you go to see a production you single out the actors you really liked. Likewise, there are normally those who weren’t quite on the same level on the night. I can hand on heart say this is the first time I’ve seen a show where I couldn’t pick a weaker link. The cast en masse were superb in every aspect of delivery, not just the acting or the dancing or the singing.

Yes there are songs. It’s a musical, but don’t let that fool you. The historical snapshot is contemporary with ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’. This is not your overblown MGM rendering of good, clean Midwest Farmer’s Daughters. More like they gave the budget to Gil Scott-Heron.

  That’s the abiding sense, when it’s done and you feel a little like a squeezed-out rag: it’s funny and energetic and poignant and entertaining – it’s a show, after all – but this is one angry play. And these fine actors felt it. Even after the performance was done, and the standing ovation was in full flow, the ranged players found it hard to raise a smile.


Its season at The Young Vic has been extended (until 21st Dec 2013). Go see it.



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