I went to see ‘One Night in Miami’ on Saturday night at the Donmar Warehouse, which follows a night in a motel in Miami, where Muhammad Ali, Malcom X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown had convened. Whereas the world saw them as icons, in this play they are just four friends, celebrating the world heavyweight champion – Muhammad Ali.
With the show lasting an hour and a half without an interval, or set changes, it is not surprising that the show’s success lies within the tension it manages to maintain. Walking into the space, you can already hear cicadas and planes rumbling overhead, which immediately set the scene. The garish hotel set is oddly spacious, but still reminiscent of the extravagant décor of the 60s. The set had a little cove which unfortunately (most likely due to where I was sitting), absorbed the sound making it difficult to hear some of the play. But hey, when the tickets are free, who can complain?
With the show set in the height of the Civil Rights movement, the tension in the drive for equality, and within the black community indeed made the show. The suspense was maintained throughout the performance in the audience and on stage. Every time the tension built, it either bubbled over or there was a break, in the form of the music of Sam Cooke, or a snappy one line, which created the perfect tone for the show. This was all aided by the soundscape and the brilliant chemistry between the four actors. The involvement of the audience was a welcome break in the tension, adding electricity in the air, and a humour to the piece, that was different to the repeated one liners. It was a very realistic and poignant glimpse into the civil rights movement. Sope Dirisu, captured the youthful Muhammad Ali, with a playful and spirited energy. Arinzé Kene who played Sam Cooke, had a brilliant voice, and his rendition of A Change is Gonna Come, with footage portraying protests from the 60s, all the way to the Black Lives Matter Movement in Missouri, on the cyclorama behind, was a chilling moment – emphasising the relevance and necessity of the equal rights movement today. The performance felt far longer than ninety minutes, showing the weight of the issues addressed, with an definitive and conclusive ending.
Overall a very important, topical and political performance, to be performed right now, brimming with chilling images, conceived by the directors and actors. Highly recommend, especially with our current political situation.
One Night in Miami is showing at the Donmar until the 3rd of December.