Changing black attitudes

Theatre: The Life and Death of a Buffalo Soldier; Bristol Old Vic
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The Life and Death of a

Buffalo Soldier

Bristol Old Vic

The playwright David Goodland has focused on a horrifying, fascinating chapter of history. An astonishing 10 per cent of the America GIs drafted over here were black. A wartime apartheid existed - they were good enough to be gun fodder but not allowed on buses - although, surprisingly, there was little racism among British civilians. It couldn't last. The honeymoon soon turned to hatred with the arrival of the white GIs, many Southern red-necks to whom racism was endemic.

Goodland's buffalo soldier is Jimmy, a GI based in Bristol who falls in love with local girl Joycie. When her husband discovers her in flagrante, a rape charge is trumped up.

The action of the play takes Jimmy's son back to Bristol in 1995 to resolve the mystery of his father's love affair and death, flitting deftly backwards and forwards through three generations to show how black attitudes have changed. The material is so compelling that it survives even Goodland's most damaging misjudgment, which is to have created Joyce as a would-be comic character. It is ludicrous that a guy resembling the only love of her life, who bursts into her flat with a photograph of her as the good-time gal she was, should be greeted by a total lack of curiosity or fear - or any other perceptible emotion. Inevitably, this false note twangs through the rest of the play often rendering the dialogue desperately inept (at its worst, Sonny: "Loving you killed him." Joyce: "As sure as eggs is eggs.") Goodland's male characters are as strongly conceived as his women are flimsy. Nevertheless, the production is effortlessly stolen by Shaun Parkas whose versatile talent surfaces triumphantly. An actor to watch.