The Royal Court Theatre presents
I Just Stopped by to See the Man ( Archived )
By Stephen Jeffreys
30 November - 6 January 2001
Jerwood Theatre Downstairs
There is no further information for this production. For archival material contact the V&A Museum
(L to R) : Sophie Okonedo, Ciaran McMenamin, Tommy Hollis
Production photography by John Haynes.
Direction: Richard Wilson.
Design: Julian McGowan. Sound: Paul Arditti.
Cast: Tommy Hollis, Sophie Okonedo, Ciaran McMenamin
“The time is 1975, the setting is an obscure house in the Mississippi Delta. Its occupants are Jesse, a one-time blues legend, who has long been assumed dead, and his fugitive daughter Della.
“Their precarious peace is shattered by the arrival of Karl: an international, Surrey-based rock star whose band has been doing a gig in Memphis, Tennessee.
“Karls mission is to woo the septuagenarian Jesse, whom he idolises, back into the limelight for one last stand.
“As a practised dramatist, Jeffreys understands the importance of desperation and he shrewdly parcels it out among his three characters.
“The pious Jesse, who after the death of his wife forsook the blues as the devils music, is lured by the adrenalin buzz of live performance. Against that he has to balance Dellas need for anonymity after her involvement with the Black Panthers.
“Even the Mephistophelian Karl, facing the break-up of his band, is torn between drug-dependence or a new partnership with a renascent Jesse.
“What carries the play through is the quality of the performance under the guidance of Richard Wilson: one of the best directors of actors in captivity.
“Tommy Hollis as the aged Jesse brings out beautifully the mans mixture of reclusive piety and closet vanity: when he dons his old fedora, you see him acquiring a recollected swagger. Ciaran McMenamin as the rock star with a touch of Surrey on top also has exactly the right cool sexiness and implacable selfishness.
“And, in the trickiest role, Sophie Okonedo makes you believe that Della is bursting with deadly secrets.”
“Few plays about music are serious, and few plays use music seriously. Stephen Jeffreys I Just Stopped By to See the Man scores on both points, movingly. Few moments in London theatre this year have been as hair-raising as the moments when the two male characters here launch into the blues. Ciarran McMenamin and Tom Hollis arent just playing the roles of musicians, they give us real music-making.
“a superlative and sensitive production by Richard One Foot in the Grave Wilson. Apart from the great musical skills of Hollis and McMenamin, it is wonderful just to watch their body language and listen to their separate deliveries of their respective dialects. The physical geometries of stage space, the way the men watch sense each other: all wonderful. And Sophie Okonedo, who in the past year has swept to the forefront of young British actors, is compelling as Della.”
“In this richly humane and moving new play, Stephen Jeffreys explores a fascinating corner of social and artistic history. It may not be the best new drama of the year, but it is one that has given me most pleasure.
“The clash of cultures between the old bluesman and his fey white admirere is warmly and wittily drawn, not least when Jesse improvises a blues number about Surrey stockbrockers and the travails of suburban gardening. But a sharper political edge is provided by Jesses daughter, Della, a member of the black-consciousness movement and deeply suspicious of the white guy who has done so well out of the work of the oppressed.
“It isnt issues that drive the play, though, but people and the love of music itself. You come to care for all three characters and, when Jesse rediscovers his voice as a bluesman and growls out Churchyard Blues, the hairs are raised on the back of the neck. Equally affecting is the scene where he returns to the stage and discovers that he has an army of young white admirers.
“The American actor Tommy Hollis is magnificent as Jesse, big, wry, massively dignified and blessed with an awesome voice. His sudden moments of emotional vulnerability catch at the heart.
“Ciarn McMenamin is both touching and absurd as the white guitar hero, caught between a love of music and an addiction to heroin, and with an accent that ranges hilariously between suburban English cool and Memphis, Tennessee, while Sophie Okonedo combines spunkiness and pain as the daughter.
“ Richard (One Foot in the Grave) Wilson directs with the confidence of a man who knows that he is on to a winner, and this cherishable, deeply felt show deserves to be a big popular hit.”
“Stephen Jeffreyss wonderful new play, set in Mississippi, 1975, is a fairy story about an old blues singer; about resurrection, survival and nostalgia. But, as usual with this writer, there is more to it than meets the dewy eye.
“…This is a tough, sensitive play about values and commitments, heads and hearts; and the three beautifully controlled performances flower and flourish under Richard Wilsons firm, cool direction.”
THE SUNDAY TIMES
JERWOOD THEATRE DOWNSTAIRS
I JUST STOPPED BY TO SEE THE MAN