There is nothing like the sight of a swastika to haul a show away from sentimentality. During the 2006 London revival of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s musical, huge Nazi flags unfurled down the length of the Palladium’s walls.
Though there is only one woman on stage, there are two people about whom we know an awful lot by the end of this show. The first is the Josephine of the title — Josephine Baker that is, the African American dancing dynamo who became a ground-breaking sex symbol on stage and screen. The second is actor and author of this show Cush Jumbo.
‘I’m not a good traveller,” says the Tony-winning, New York playwright Richard Greenberg, on the line from his Manhattan apartment. “I’m talking to you from a swivel chair which makes me feel kind of global,” he adds self-mockingly.
Not since the crablike stalk of Kevin Spacey’s Richard III has the star of a show had to adopt such painful-looking posture. In the title role of Martin McDonagh’s 1997 play, set on the island of Inishmaan in 1934, Daniel Radcliffe as the orphan Cripple Billy hoists one hip above the other.
With Eugene O’Neill’s peculiar Strange Interlude at the National, this revival of Tennessee Williams’s rarely staged late play is the second utterly involving offering in London by a great pillar of American drama.
The first of two plays written by the novelist and essayist James Baldwin — revived here by director Rufus Norris in a version gorgeously saturated with gospel music — was penned in the knowledge that religion was a refuge for his fellow African Americans. For them, opportunities to be anything other than an unskilled labourer were practically non-existent.