Review by Benjamin Lamb
After the events surrounding civil rights for African Americans in the USA, the theatre world has been full of revivals of shows celebrating those who are often marginalised; to name a few in 2022, Australia’s had Raisin in the Sun, and Hairspray, two iconic shows about the rights of Black Americans. Continuing this trend is The Meeting, the show that imagines a meeting between two icons of civil rights, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. The play was first written in 1987 by Jeff Stetson, an American playwright. Before heading to this show, it’s important you have some prior knowledge about the work of the activists, as much of the play focuses on the nuances between the views of the pair.
The play opened in the house of Malcolm X, who is having a nightmare, immediately moving the audience into the mindset of the activist. Then we are introduced to his bodyguard (and at times friend) Rashad (Akhilesh Jain). In what remains as a serious play, Rashad does provide some comedic relief at points. From the first scene, it’s apparent there is immediate chemistry between Jain and Christopher Kirby (Malcolm X), the acting is strong from the pair. The play then quickly moves to the arrival of Martin Luther King at Malcolm X’s (Dushan Phillips) house, and this is where the strong acting really comes out. Kirby taking centre stage and confronting Phillip’s MLK on his stance on current civil rights issues. To a viewer with little to no prior knowledge about this history, there’s an expectation that MLK and Malcolm X had similar views about racial issues in the USA, but this show does a great job in exposing the differences in views.
As time goes on, both characters are worn down, and we really get to see them at their most emotionally vulnerable, once again, displaying the high calibre of acting from Dushan Phillips and Christopher Kirby. It then ends with characters finding common ground through their relationships with their children, possibly happening a little bit too abruptly, but that is no issue of this production, rather the original story. It comes to a final close with an off-stage assassination of MLK.
The stage and lighting design was limited, but in a play that focuses on strong dialogue and intricate storylines, there almost isn’t need for much else. But whenever there was props or lights, they were small, and perfectly added to the story. Sound and set designers Peter Mumford, Richard Vabre and Justin Gardam deserve to be commended for their work. While this play has been part of different sized stages in the world, there’s something special about this story coming to life at the Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre, the raw emotion happening so close to the seats really makes the audience feel like they are a part of the play.
It's a great play for these times, and even though it’s American based, The Meeting has a moral that a lot of Australians can use in their day to day lives.