I was intrigued by the concept of The House That Will Not Stand when I first saw it on the Tricycle Theatre’s website, and booked to see it in October. Written by Marcus Gardley, the play debuted only a few months ago at an American university, but it was an inspired decision by artistic director Indhu Rubasingham to bring it to the UK. It is one of the richest, most entertaining plays I have seen all year.
The play is set in an era and society I know little about – 1830’s Louisiana, a time and place when women of colour could purchase their freedom after becoming a plaçage (mistress to a wealthy white man). Protagonist and matriarch Beartrice, who enjoys relatively high status, is threatened not only by the recent death of her lover Lazare Albans but also by the increasing encroachment of US law, which unlike the legacy of French colonial rule, will not recognise her position of a free woman of colour. In addition, she has three wilful daughters, a mad sister in the attic, a servant who desires her own freedom and a scheming rival, La Veuve.
Gardley’s dialogue is sharp and punchy, laced with acid wit: I particularly enjoyed the scenes involving Beartrice and La Veuve trading veiled and not-so-veiled insults. The text is poetic and thought provoking, and there are some superb performances, particularly from Martina Laird as Beartrice and Michele Austin as La Veuve. I also thought Tanya Moodie as servant Makeda was excellent.
The play wasn’t quite what I expected: I thought it would be more of a frightening ghost story, which it really wasn’t. Nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed it – an excellent play with an excellent cast, which increased my awareness of black American history.