Thomas W. Hodgkinson

Rasheeda Speaking

By Joel Drake Johnson
Trafalgar Studios, London

Racism rarely comes to the ball dressed as racism. Its narrowed eyes are more likely to be glimpsed behind the mask of laddish banter, say, or corporate efficiency. This is the theme of Joel Drake Johnson’s engrossing comedy-drama, which receives its UK premiere here. Its punch lies in Tanya Moodie’s turn as Jaclyn, a brash black receptionist at a Chicago doctor’s surgery, who guesses she is about to be sacked. For her blackness or her brashness? That’s the question. More pressingly, what is she going to do about it? It’s a big performance, close to caricature, but completely realised. By degrees, it becomes clear that her white opponents — her preening boss (Bo Poraj) and co nflicted colleague (Elizabeth Berrington) — don’t stand a chance. The playwright’s achievement is to have constructed a toxic scenario that holds our sympathies in equilibrium. Jaclyn contains more life than the other characters combined, but she’s also manipulative, bullying and deceitful. You leave the theatre debating the rights and wrongs of what happens. It’s not obvious.