Recently HOME Manchester have been knocking it out of the park. They’ve received rave reviews for their summer festivities, with Incoming and Horizon festivals proving to be a hit with audiences and critics alike. Their latest offering – One Night in Miami – is hoping to be just as popular, which sees the imagined account of a fabled real-life event that sees four icons come together in a downtown Miami motel room.
On 25 February 1964, Cassius Clay shook up the world by beating the formidable Sonny Liston. He returns after his triumphant moment to his motel along with his three friends, who all ‘appen to be just as iconic in their own right. Malcolm X, an American Muslim minister and a leading figure during the civil rights movement, Sam Cooke, an American singer, songwriter and civil-rights activist and Jim Brown, an All-American bona fide football legend.
We will never know exactly what happened that night but Kemp Powers’ has cleverly chosen that point in history to throw light on not only the past but also shine a light on the present. It must have been a dream to conjure up exactly how these four icons interacted, on the cusp of greatness in their own personal lives, for one moment in time, they were just mere mortals wrestling with their own demons. Powers’ intelligently crafted script highlights the struggles and presents these legends as more than just cliched caricatures.
Yet, that is where this play was always gonna prove to be challenging. The four characters are so ingrained into the psyche of popular culture that trying to strip away the stereotypes that we are all too familiar with was maybe too much of a hurdle for director Matthew Xia to overcome. That is not to say that the cast are not fantastic at times, indeed they are. It’s just that at other times they try too hard to overcome their more popular personas.
Conor Glean never really convinces me as Cassius Clay, the pre Muhammad Ali figure whose struggles never quite brought to the fore. Christopher Colquhoun plays the controversial Malcolm X, and gives a weighty if subdued performance. Likewise Miles Yekinni brings a mature portrayal of Brown, turning from a sports hero in 1960s America to a film action hero that would ultimately dominate the blaxploitation films of the 1970s.
It seems churlish of me to highlight the finer points of the casts’ performance as a negative, but, trust me dear reader, it felt like we were always on the cusp of a spark that would ignite this production.
That is not to say that it didn’t have its moments. Matt Henry is super as Sam Cooke and virtually steals every scene he is in. It helps that he combines his performance with a wonderfully velvety impersonation of Cooke’s soulful voice. There are crowd pleasing highlights when he sings Sister Flute and You Send Me. The finale of A Change Is Gonna Come is poignant for we know what it is to come and creates a touching sentimental moment in this production’s proceedings
There should also be a special mention to Set Designer Grace Smart, who has produced a visually stunning piece that is evocative of the times. Allied with Lighting Designer, Ciarán Cunningham’s adroit use of soft tones, we the audience strangely feel like we are guests, snugly sat in the corner, not intruding on the events that are unfolding.
Despite my misgivings, One Night in Miami, is the kind of thought provoking play that HOME has become renowned for showing. Using that wonderful mix of history, politics and good old fashioned drama to strike a chord with the public.
Verdict: Thought provoking feature that imagines what four great icons got up to after Cassius Clay had just been crowned Heavyweight Champion of the World. Poignant portrayals, some kick ass killer tunes, sumptuous lighting, all has us looking back at history in a new light!