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One Night in Miami…

By Kemp Powers

Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company

HOME, 2 July 2019

7: Conor Glean (Cassius Clay), Miles Yekinni (Jim Brown), Matt Henry (Sam Cooke), and Christopher Colquhoun (Malcolm X) in One Night in Miami…, by Kemp Powers, directed by Matthew Xia, produced by the Nottingham Playhouse Theatre. At HOME Manchester (Tue 2 - Fri 5 July 2019). Photo by Richard Hubert Smith

Conor Glean (Cassius Clay), Miles Yekinni (Jim Brown), Matt Henry (Sam Cooke), and Christopher Colquhoun (Malcolm X) in One Night in Miami…, by Kemp Powers, directed by Matthew Xia, produced by the Nottingham Playhouse Theatre. At HOME Manchester (Tue 2 – Fri 5 July 2019). Photo by Richard Hubert Smith

On a sweltering hot night in Miami in 1964, four men meet up.

All good friends, they were also, even then, well known to the world through their accomplishments in their respective fields. There is Jim Brown, celebrated footballer and lately an actor, who some decades later will become the subject of a Spike Lee film. Malcolm X, a politician, writer and social activist. Sam Cooke, soul singer and businessman. And finally Cassius Clay (not yet Muhammad Ali), a boxer just crowned Heavyweight Champion of the World. The men shoot the breeze, talk about whatever happens to be happening in their lives – all black, they have inherited that complex legacy – each man’s life careening toward a crisis point. We know, of course, that two of these men will soon be murdered.

It is an engaging, entertaining play but what raises it right to the top are the convincing character portraits proffered by the four principals. Conor Glean, for example, plays Clay as a brash kid, very full of himself even then (but aware of it as well) and plenty naïve still, but good natured. Someone who is easy to love. Miles Yekinni’s Brown is a successful sportsman, but he is as aware as any of the others of the prejudice that surrounds him, of what is possible and what ain’t.Then Matt Henry as Cooke is a ball of nervous energy, a force of nature. Henry performs a couple of great Sam Cooke songs here, has the lungpower to deliver them in style. Cooke comes across as a shrewd businessman who wants to become much more. He wants transform other lives as well as his own. Finally, Colquhoun’s Malcolm X is a cerebral man who lives too much in his head. His integrity torments him. Conflicted and wrestling with his conscience, he is about to place himself in great danger.

One Night in Miami… is at HOME until 5 July, details here.