Sunday, June 23

The Book of Grace – Arcola Theatre

This is an outstanding production of a gripping drama, written by Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks in 2009. The Arcola Theatre presents the UK premiere of a revised version, with an all-black cast.

The play tells the story of Vet and his second wife Grace who live on the Texas Mexico border. They receive a visit from Vet’s son Buddy,  who has been away and out of contact for 15 years. He has returned for his father’s award ceremony, recognition for his single-handedly having detained a large group of illegal migrants on the border. The border runs through Vet’s life: he is a very proud member of the border force, his house is within sight of the border fence and he has a live stream of the fence playing in his house. Borders generally are very important to Vet, he likes to see them defining countries, cities, regions and even domestic settings.

The writing is precise and compelling, and underlying historic relationship tensions and “secrets”  pervade the script. The acting is superb. Peter De Jersey plays Vet  as a tough and uncompromising domestic tyrant, although there are enough moments of vulnerability to indicate that he is also trying to face up to contradictions within his own personality. Grace is played by Ellena Vincent, who acts as narrator and introduces us to her “book”, in which she tries to record the good in everything, but keeps it secreted under the floorboards. Buddy, the prodigal son, played by Daniel Francis-Swaby has completed a  tour of duty in the military with an honourable discharge, but his motivation for returning home after such a large absence is not immediately clear. He seems to have no real desire to improve his relationship with his father, but  clearly has some affection for his step mother.

The direction was also absolutely first class. Director Femi Elufowoju jr made the bold decision to present it in the round in the Arcola’s Studio One. The danger with such staging is that the actors always have their backs to a portion of the audience and thus need to move around frequently. This can often lead to an artificial presentation, but in this case the movement seemed natural and flowing throughout. Elufowoju also made excellent use of the whole of the theatre space, with the characters moving near to and even into the audience from time to time.  This combined with the addressing of parts of the text to individual audience members made the whole audience feel part of the action.

This is not light entertainment and there are very few laughs, but if you want to see serious modern drama presented in an absorbing  and innovative manner, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Playing until 8th June,  

Reviewer: Paul Ackroyd

Reviewed: 20th May 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.