The Scottsboro Boys – Review (****)

Adam Wollerton

West End Worthy?

Following its storming success at The Young Vic previously, The Scottsboro Boys bring their tale to the West End stage as it becomes housed at The Garrick Theatre in Charing Cross – but the question is, can a powerful studio-feel piece transfer successfully to the larger stage and, empathetic to the show’s nature, fight for its right in the heart of the West End?

As we entered the auditorium in silence, we felt the need to speak in a hushed whisper whilst few audience members filtered in. Much to our delight, the stalls soon filled up to a laudable size, but the silence continued. Was this pre-empting the serious nature of the show or simply the front of house staff forgetting to hit the on-switch on the music?

The set was minimal but cleverly designed by Tony nominee Beowulf Boritt and ingeniously adapted throughout the production by Director Susan Stroman. Together with the actors, they have incorporated effortless and minimal scene changes that have a great impact and dynamic, creating individuality and personality in each scene and location. From this minimalistic setting (including the fallen frames echoing back from the proscenium arch) it is evident that this piece was once in a smaller home and striving to achieve a bigger audience.

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With a striking and engaging opening, the silence of the lady sat centrestage begins to stir in your curiosity as an audience member. Dawn Hope captured the audiences’ attention effortlessly in her single spotlight, staring out over everyone and simply watching. As the show evolves, it does become a somewhat of a nothing role, however. Is she really needed? As she transfigures throughout the production into various roles of the Scottsboro Boys’ story, she becomes a little lost and less of an omnipresent reminder and more of an always present extra.

That said, the conclusion of the production is particularly powerful and a great testament to the history of Rosa Parks and the tale of the Scottsboro Boys. The revelation of Parks’ character is in the re-enactment of the well-known ‘bus story’, when Rosa Parks was asked to move to make way for the white people on a crowded bus in Alabama, December 1955.

Although Director Stroman has decided to only feature the ‘lady’ (so named, we can assume, as she was known as ‘the first lady of civil rights’) and the bus driver, this gives it a particularly harsh realistic edge. The historic bus in this story was in fact incredibly busy, but this clever presentation of the event focuses on the two people that matter and really bring the issue to the forefront – Rosa Parks deserved that seat as much as anyone else on that bus, black or white. Very clever. Perhaps more could be done with the role throughout as this ending is very powerful indeed.

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Another shout out must be given to the incredibly talented Susan Stroman, who has excelled on this production, not only with direction, but indeed the choreography which is fantastic, clever and unpredictable. This congratulation has to be extended to her assistant choreographer Richard Pitt, also. I must say the electric chair tap sequence was a particularly great moment in the show but this show is a spectacle at every opportunity when it comes to choreography.

I conclude this review with the cast themselves. In short, they were brilliant. Despite being a large cast, each of them had their own personality, own story to tell and own history to live up to. It’s hard with this production to name any particular stand-out performances as, in truth, it is one of the strongest companies I have seen in a long time and this is testament to the dedication and talent that lives in this cast.

The Scottsboro Boys is a tale steeped in history retold brilliantly through this incredible cast and creative team. Unlike anything on the West End at the moment, The Scottsboro Boys isn’t just a musical about history, but a musical that will have a place in history and certainly deserving of its current West End run. Breaking of legs to all involved!




About Adam Wollerton

Adam is a Writer and Director of Off-West End and West End Theatre Productions. He is also the Co-Founder of Curious Tales Theatre Company and is the author of LoveStuck: A New Musical.