Old Vic, London until July 9
It’s extraordinary how much drama has been found over the years in cab companies. There was the long-running American sitcom Taxi, Jack Rosenthal’s The Knowledge, and, on stage a few years ago, Ishy Din’s Approaching Empty. Now Jitney, August Wilson’s contribution, set in a Pittsburgh hire company in the 70s, is looking for fares at the Old Vic.
The title refers to the name of the car – unlicensed – that the African
residents of the Pittsburgh Hill district of the city turned to during this period when conventional cab companies kept well clear. Wil Johnson plays
Becker, the much-put-upon boss who tries to keep his motley drivers in line
and his company somehow in profit.
Alex Lowde’s set of Becker’s office consists of a few tables and chairs, and, inevitably, a single telephone forever ringing. The drivers come and go, which gives Tinuke Craig’s production a claustrophobic, testosterone-fuelled feel. The characters – sporting some fine old Starsky and Hutch hairdos – include Youngblood, well played by Solomon Israel, who is a Vietnam vet with a young family to support. If that doesn’t grab you, there’s the uneasy
relationship between Becker and his son, Booster – the role admirably taken on by understudy Blair Gyabaah on the press night – who is just out of prison. There’s also the shouty Turnbo – Sule Rimi on fine form.
The characters are interesting enough, but none of them really break through sufficiently to hold the production together and give it any real focus.