The Amen Corner, National Theatre – review

Published: Friday, June 14, 2013 8:19 AM | Review by: Gillian Fisher |
Amen Corner Lucian Msamati - Luke and Marianne Jean-Baptiste - Margaret Alexander [image Richard H Smith] Amen Corner Lucian Msamati - Luke and Marianne Jean-Baptiste - Margaret Alexander [image Richard H Smith]

This is a stirring and commanding piece of drama, which will leave any theatregoer lifting up their voice to sing its praises.

In 1960s Harlem the streets are thronging with worldly pleasures and the sinful decadence of jazz. Armed with a bible and ardent determination Sister Margaret strives to lead her parish on the road to righteousness. But discontent stirs amongst her flock when Sister Margaret’s past comes back to haunt her in the form of her trombone playing ex husband. As they watch their pastor’s son turn away from his Sunday school lessons the congregation questions whether their puritanical preacher is really fit to wear her white robe. Will they who are without blame cast the first stone? Or will the eye that offends be plucked out?

Amen Corner Sharon D Clarke - Odessa    [image by Richard H Smith] Amen Corner Sharon D Clarke - Odessa [image by Richard H Smith]

James Baldwin’s drama The Amen Corner was first performed in 1965 and draws upon the writer’s own experience of growing up in a black religious community. His humorous but sagacious writing offers a compelling insight into a world largely unknown by those by those outside of it. Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s portrayal of Sister Margaret is compellingly dedicated. She fills the entire stage during her opening sermon; condemning movies and alcohol as ungodly.

The awesome sound of the London Community Gospel Choir transports the audience into an ethereal dimension lending incredible power to the actors’ performances. This astounding spiritual force exacerbates the pettiness of the church elder’s grievances. Sister Moore played by Cecilia Noble has her eyes set firmly on the pulpit and her fervid scripture quotations merely mask her narcissistic intentions. Her zealous forays into preaching with exaggerated physicality and wailing are expertly timed. Her confrontation with the preacher’s loyal sister Odessa played with subtle poise by Sharon D Clarke is spellbinding.

Rufus Norris’ expert direction ensures each scene throbs with emotional intensity.


This production operates on so many levels. This extends as far as the set designed by Ian MacNeil. The upper storey forms the church room which is dedicated to worship. The lower storey is where life happens as coffee is brewed and collection money is counted. Whilst civil rights are never mentioned the characters’ position as black people is intrinsic to their reality. Sister Margaret’s role as pastor is one of the few available to her in 1960s Harlem and a much coveted position of authority. When ex husband Luke swaggers back into her life she is eager to reject the still desirable alternative to holiness. Lucian Msamati becomes the character in any play he is in and his portrayal of a wise cracking and immoveable rogue is no exception. The dialogue between himself and his son David is very touching. Eric Kofi Abrefa plays the teenager on the cusp of manhood, eager to experience the world outside of his mother’s ecclesiastical confines.

Amen Corner Marianne Jean-Baptiste - Margaret Alexander, Eric Kofi Abrefa - David [image Richard H Smith] Amen Corner Marianne Jean-Baptiste - Margaret Alexander, Eric Kofi Abrefa - David [image Richard H Smith]

The disenfranchised’s struggle for power and the inherent double standards within religion are explored objectively and with empathy. Rufus Norris’ expert direction ensures each scene throbs with emotional intensity. In particular Jean-Baptiste’s inner turmoil is ever present as her attempts to repress her emotions become progressively more futile. This is a stirring and commanding piece of drama which will leave any theatregoer lifting up their voice to sing its praises.


Info: The Amen Corner is at the National Theatre until August 14, 2013 | Book tickets to see The Amen Corner


Related links

For theatre breaks go to Tickettree.com
The Amen Corner – Afridiziak reader offer
The Amen Corner – Behind the scenes video with Marianne Jean Baptiste
The Amen Corner – rehearsal pics and Afridiziak preview


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