Tony Marshall as Fielding and Wil Johnson as Becker
Old Vic Theatre 2022
Photo: Manuel Harlan
049 – Jitney, by August Wilson
August Wilson’s play Jitney is set in the run-down office of an unlicensed taxi company in a poor black neighbourhood in Pittsburgh in 1977. The cast of characters is the crew of drivers, each of whom has a story to tell, and all of whom depend on the cash earnings from this underground business. Unbeknownst to everyone other than the firm’s boss, Becker, the building they occupy is under notice of demolition, and the business and their livelihoods are under threat. The social and economic challenges that these characters face in 1970s America resonate strongly today, and the relationships and hopes and fears of this ensemble of characters are certainly universal.
Jitney is one of August Wilson’s series of plays known as the Pittsburgh or Century Cycle, which comprise 10 plays about the black experience in America, each one set in a different decade of the 20th century. It was first written in 1979 and performed in Pittsburgh in 1982, but Wilson subsequently rewrote large parts of it in 1996, which led to multiple more productions around the United States, before it was finally produced in New York in April 2000. It received its British premiere at the National Theatre in October 2001, and as we record this it is being revived at the Old Vic Theatre in London in a vibrant, funny and topical new production.
I am delighted and privileged to be joined in this episode by two members of the cast from the staging of Jitney at the Old Vic: Wil Johnson, who plays Becker, the boss of the taxi firm, and Tony Marshall, who plays Fielding, a funny and poignant character with a fascinating back story.
I heartedly recommend the Old Vic production, directed by Tinuke Craig. It runs at the Old Vic until 9th July 2022, and then is on tour in venues in Worthing, Bath and Cambridge until 6th August 2022.
Wil Johnson has an extensive list of TV, film and stage credits, including many familiar TV series such as Cracker, Waking the Dead, Waterloo Road and Emmerdale. His stage appearances include Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at this same Old Vic, Sweat at the Donmar and in the West End, a UK tour of Glengarry Glen Ross and Othello at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh and King Lear at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, among many others.
Tony Marshall has had a prolific career as a TV actor, in television series such as Coronation Street, The Bill, All Quiet on the Preston Front, The Queen’s Nose, Only Fools and Horses, Doctors and Life on Mars. He is perhaps best known for his role as Noel Garcia in Casualty, which he made his own for 12 years until January 2021 when topically his character died of Covid19.
If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them from our selected partners Bookshop.org and Blackwell’s. Not only will you be supporting independent booksellers, we will also earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. Click on the cover to buy from our chosen partner. Thank you.
Tyrell William’s award-winning, debut play Red Pitch is set on an inner-city football pitch in South London. It is a coming-of-age story, with teenage boys fighting to believe in their dreams, and to find a way up, and perhaps out, of their changing community. The play premiered at the Bush Theatre in London in February 2002, winning several awards, and is currently enjoying a sell-out revival at the Bush.
Tyrell Williams, and the show’s director, Daniel Bailey, join me to explore this joyful and poignant new play.
Photo by Helen Murray.
Martin McDonagh’s 2004 play The Pillowman is an unsettling mix of gruesome fairy tales, child abuse, and murder, overlaid with McDonagh’s signature black humour. McDonagh’s blend of extreme violence and ironic comedy divides opinion, although the popularity of the current revival of the play in London’s West End is testimony to its enduring fascination.
I am joined in this episode by Professor Eamonn Jordan, to help us come to terms with the impact and intent of McDonagh’s work.
Accidental Death of an Anarchist by Dario Fo and Franca Rame is both an hilarious farce and a biting satire. Written in 1970 as an “act of intervention” in response to the unexplained death of a prisoner in police custody in Milan, it became a huge global hit.
An acclaimed new adaptation that updates the setting and scandal to modern-day Britain is currently playing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, and I’m delighted to be joined by its writer, Tom Basden, and the director, Daniel Raggett, to talk about their adaptation and the enduring relevance of Fo’s original.