Before Two Trains Running, my only experience of August Wilson was Fences, the Oscar-winning film starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, depicting Black working-class people in the United States. However, Two Trains Running takes us to Pittsburgh 1969, again highlighting the inequalities in America of working-class people. This is a story about Black people. It’s about working-class people, making me think about Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight – in the hue of a brow-beaten broken café.
The experiences of these characters are suspended between 1969 in a post-Jim Crow America and the legacy of Slavery, as history still has a role to play in the present. You cannot tell the history of Black people in America without talking about slavery and Jim Crow. “We are the products of the history that our ancestors chose, if we are White” says Kevin Gannon in 13th. “If we are Black we are products of the history our ancestors most likely didn’t choose.” And these characters are living in the vice of the choices their ancestors certainly didn’t choose. America in the epilogue of colonisation – shaped by White people to benefit White people. And this sets the scene for our play, dancing between personal and political histories, in ruins of race, class and empire.
Every actor goes to the limit. The direction is on point. The sets are minimalistic but effective. I did recognise the numbers of the board, allusions to significant years of The Slave Trade, both the British system and the American. With references to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X as well as the incoming Black Panthers and Black Power, the political meets the personal – in the way that it’s impossible to be Black in America and avoid politics. To be Black in America (and Europe) is a political statement in itself. Race is in everything and Wilson shows this, as well as the intersections race has with class and gender. Each character doing whatever it takes to survive.
Watching these characters unravel, you begin to get to know them. The set shows a community in crisis, something that we see a lot today. In Britain, via Brexit and the Windrush Scandal, cultures being lost as the Windrush Generation begin to die out. Who is preserving the culture? Moreover, institutional racism – a huge talking point in the NHS, the Police, and universities.
Pictures by Manuel Hanlan