(Dominic Cavendish’s article appeared in the Telegraph, 2/3.)
This is a marvellous revival of August Wilson's tale of a blues legend and her band in 1927 Chicago
When August Wilson died in 2005 at the age of 60, the New York Times hailed him as “Theatre’s poet of black America”. The playwright Tony Kushner, in turn, compared him in status to Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller. Watching Dominic Cooke’s exemplary and revelatory revival of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984) – which at a bound restores confidence in the new regime at the National (shaken by a few recent bum-notes) – you’re left in no doubt about Wilson’s talent and significance.
The first play of the 10-strong “Pittsburg Cycle”, chronicling the African-American experience in the 20th century, Wilson doesn’t actually take us to his native Pittsburg but a Chicago recording studio in 1927. Ma Rainey – dubbed the mother of the blues – is due to lay down some tracks, among them the titular jazz classic “Black Bottom”, which mischievously celebrates a saucy new dance.