Review: The Scottsboro Boys

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By Gabrielle Beran

The Scottsboro Boys is no happy tale, forget the glitter and fluff of other West End favourites Wicked or Matilda, this musical has guts and packs a real punch. The musical is based on the devastatingly true story of nine African-American teens obviously wrongly imprisoned in depression-soaked Alabama.

Setting off on a train through the deep South in search of work, the boys are falsely accused of rape and rapidly imprisoned. While most of the story focusses on one of the boys, each boy’s character is given a chance to add value and depth to the story. It brings to mind To Kill Mockingbird in the lessons it is trying to tell and The History Boys at the end where their fates are revealed to us in monologues. But The Scottsboro Boys is unlike any other musical right now.

The energy of the cast is electric and the narrow, high Garrick theatre is a good intimate setting for the vaudeville show exposition. We follow the overstated highs and deep lows of the boys’ train journey, arrest and subsequent years in prison and in trials. While this sounds depressing, the music is good, the choreography fantastic (although more tap dancing next time please) and the harmonies were perfect. Furthermore, there is good use of humour to break the mood. Most of this comes from poking fun at the white Southerners for their idiocy and misguided self-righteousness. Noone escapes being mocked in this musical as the terrifying social opinions of the white Alabama guards, judge, lawyers and public pervade the show. This is social commentary at its most accessible, heightened by there only being one non-African American actor, while all the other white characters are fluidly played by the boys.

Thematically, The Scottsboro Boys also deals with memory and record. The importance of remembering injustices and the freedom and risk of telling the truth are poignant reminders of the flaws of justice systems everywhere.

The cast have a wonderful chemistry and the simple set props make this a very actor-centric production. There is also a live orchestra which adds to a very musically strong performance.

Do not go toThe Scottsboro Boys if you are easily offended – this is no happy-go-lucky musical. However, if you can stomach the realities of the racist, sexist and disgusting attitudes of Alabama in the 1930s, put to music, you are in for a slick, clever and wonderful night at the theatre.

Garrick Theatre, 2 Charing Cross Road

Performances Mon – Sat.

Cheap tickets are available by using vouchers from the TimeOut website and online.

Gabrielle Beran