THEATRE: The Amen Corner Old Vic, Bristol

In the Harlem ghetto of 1950s New York, the true source of misery is the dollar, not the Devil. The Amen Corner is an excoriating attack on the analgesic of religion, pounding home the message that "all we done to be cursed is be poor". It's not your sins that kill your babies and your loved ones, nor lack of piety that stops you from putting bread on the table - it's poverty. But religion looms large over the lives of Sister Margaret's congregation, and in Paulette Randall's production, the shabby mission hall squats over the sketchily outlined living quarters, filling with an ebb and flow of worshippers whose eruptions into rapturous song lend a background soundtrack to the action.

James Baldwin's tragedy of a woman who applies the varnish of the Lord to cover the wounds of her past, only to have it stripped away layer by painful layer, crackles to life in a frenzy of pure-cut holy roller religion. Sister Margaret leads her small flock along the path of righteousness with unbending puritan piety. But when Luke, her louche jazz musician husband, returns after a 10-year separation just in time to collapse across the kitchen table with terminal TB, the rigidly heaven-bound structure of her life begins to collapse. Her congregation ferments rebellion, her son abandons his strict Christian upbringing in favour of the life of a strolling jazzman, and the carefully applied coating is chipped away to leave her weeping over the gaping holes in her life which religion has merely papered over. However, the play marches towards its inevitable conclusion to a syncopated beat, with gospel music and humour applied lavishly - all the better to counterpoint the tragedy, climaxing with Luke's death downstage to the accompaniment of a lively devotional jive in the hall above.

The outstanding performance comes from Michael Price as Margaret's son David. In his first professional role, he displays both excellent comic timing and a fine feel for Hamletian soul-searching, and his departing speech to his mother - "I want to be a man. It's time you let me be a man" - leaves the audience in a breathless hush where one can sense a thousand hands teetering on the edge of an ovation.

There is an Arthur Miller feel to the way in which the play depicts the quiet and desperate inevitability of Margaret's entropic shift from order to chaos; but at the same time the story is firmly grounded in the blend of fervent religion and soul-destroying poverty unique to the ghetto. As part of Bristol Old Vic's on-going commitment to black theatre, the production is not only an excellent opportunity to see this rarely staged play, but also a chance to see some fine performers demonstrating that there is a great deal more to black British acting than bit-parts in The Bill.

To 3 May (0117 987 7877)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world