Admittedly, before the show announcement I had no idea where Butetown was. The Butetown area of Cardiff or Tiger Bay as it also goes by, was a central point for black American soldiers and multicultural reset during World War Two. It's wrongly not a taught part of history and Diana Nneka Atuona has done a great job writing it.
We begin during the war in the home of Gwyneth Mbanefo (played by Sarah Parish) in Butetown Cardiff. She shares the home with her two mixed-race Welsh/Nigerian daughters. Connie, charmed by the soldiers who come from the lands beyond her small town and Georgina, still a sweet child and naively so. Her husband is away at sea. It also doubles up as an illegal boarding house where she boards a mixed (ethnicity) house. The first act is fun, we meet the family and the lodgers living there. Her current guest list includes local old sailor Patsy (Ifan Huw Dafydd), West Indian Norman (played with brilliant comedic wit by Zephryn Taitte) and Dullah, a Muslim who has frequent visits from his girlfriend Peggy.
We start with the full set on stage. It's detailed and busy, it's small but it works really well. I have to say this is the first production where I've seen the full set and props in usage all at once. It's busy but it's slick. Peter Mckintosh has done a brilliant job at the “doilyness” of it.
The first half does feel a little slow at times but it sets up each character well. There is a lot of ground to cover and it feels worthwhile as we connect with the family. Particularly younger daughter Georgina (played by Rosie Ekenna) who is undoubtedly the stand-out performance of the show.
We learn that ‘coloured' GI's are only allowed within separate barracks that are tied back by segregation laws which forbade them from talking to the locals. Unbeknownst to Gwyneth, the youngest daughter, Georgina stumbles upon a black soldier hiding in the back garden and eventually much to his surprise the house takes him in. These scenes are earnest and touching. They hide him from runnings with the militant snowdrops (white helmet Americans).
Act two is snappier but feels rushed at times, the script feels slightly ambitious with how much it's trying to cover in a couple of hours so we're left with questions. Tinuke Craig has, as ever done a fantastic job with staging the many overlapping storylines.
The performances from stage newcomers Rita Bernard-Shaw & Samuel Adewunmi feel a little stumbled at times but they delivered a hearty performance through press night nerves. The additional supporting cast make it a beautiful, moving ensemble piece.
Writer Diana Nneka Atuona has covered so much ground and history. The end message of the piece ties some of the loose ends together and the underlying question of heroism vs freedom closes the show.
It runs until 25 March.
Review: Nicole Botha Photo: Manuel Harlan