Three generations of a British Caribbean family laugh, fight, cry and entertain their way through grief in Running with Lions the debut play by writer Sian Carter. Talawa and Lyric Hammersmith have joined forces on this production to bring this important family drama to the stage. Veteran actors Wil Johnson and Suzette Llewellyn play the grandparents to Imani (Ruby Barker) and the parents to Imani’s mother Gloria (Velile Tshabalala) and her mothers brother Joshua (Nickcolia King-N’da) who died in a hit and run accident 10 years ago.
The pain of losing a child, a sibling bellows louder than the laughter which comes from Wil Johnson’s Maxwell, as the fresh grandfather. His comedic timing is spot on across from the uncompromising guilt-ridden grandmother. Llewellyn’s Shirley is sharp tongued and religious, religion is something that they both share as Maxwell is a pastor. When Maxwell makes Shirley laugh you can see the love that they share and for those moments the darkness of her grief is gone but not for long as she tries to find something to distract her from thinking about Joshua. Shirley’s relationship with her daughter Gloria is hemorrhaged by grief and does not allow her to support Gloria’s mental health issues.
It is ambitious writing from Carter which is rewarded with a very strong cast and creative team. Michael Buffong’s two hours is justified and weighty as it is has time to “discuss” the topics that need to be discussed…Gloria’s bipolar and Shirley’s mental and emotional shut down after losing Joshua. Is this how some Caribbean families might deal with mental illness and death or does this just happen to be a Caribbean family? Are questions one might pose.
The young actors stand up to the veterans on stage, the bond between Barker’s organically played Imani and Maxwell is real and endearing. There is a thread of talent that runs through the cast cementing the story one line at a time. Faith is centre stage, Shirley hides behind it and Maxwell uses it to question life and death.
Running With Lions is the first play from exciting new writing talent Sian Carter, directed by Michael Buffong, Talawa Theatre Company’s Artistic Director (Guys & Dolls; King Lear; All My Sons, Talawa Theatre Company/Royal Exchange) and is a co-production with Talawa Theatre Company, the UK’s outstanding Black British Theatre Company. Tickets From- £10. Running time -140 minutes.
Running With Lions on until 12 Mar 2022. BOOK HERE