Caroline, Or Change is Tony Kushner’s Olivier Award-winning through-sung musical.
Premiering in London’s Lyttleton stage, National Theatre, in 2006, it’s world premiere was off-Broadway in 2003, followed by a Broadway run in 2004. This production follows a critically acclaimed 2017 revival at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester, transferring to the Hampstead Theatre, London, earlier this year.
Synopsis: Louisiana, 1963. Revolution is in the air, though not so much for Caroline (Sharon D. Clarke), the poorly paid maid toiling endlessly in the sweltering basement of the Gellman household. Noah rushes home from school to find Caroline with only the electric washing machine (
“It was meant to be shocking — it would have been very daring in 1963,” Kushner said in August 2017 after the violent Charlottesville culmination of nationwide Confederate monument removal/relocation campaigns. I
As is common for many produced black perspectives (Dreamgirls, 1981/2006, The Secret Life of Bees, 2001/08, The Long Walk Home, 1990, The Help, 2009/11, to name a few) it feels like this author also seems to lack personal experience from which to write the black perspective. It matters, because whilst Africans have endured enforced intimacy with Europeans, the reverse is not true, and whilst they live the advantages, the plight of the disadvantaged is rarely
So whilst we are provided with constant insight into the inner thoughts of Stuart, Rose, and Noah, Caroline still remains somewhat of a mystery. Despite Michael Longhurst’s innovative direction (Amadeus, Constellations, The History Boys). He brings Caroline’s traditionally inanimate singing companions to life in performers who stalk the stage, enlivening the scenes with clever movement, and perhaps removing some of the unintentional comedy of talking appliances. They do, occasionally overpower the presence of Caroline herself. She maintains a stillness reflective of America’s paralysis in fulfilling the promise of a ‘land of the free’ and ‘we the people’, and a soul still very much in the grip of loss. That said, when the remarkable Sharon D. Clarke sings, she is the only thing which fills your senses.
A black perspective told as fantasy by a white author like this, means that choices and balance don’t always sit well. Aspects we might wish to alter remain unchanged, as we are presented with the limitations of the author’s cultural re-imagination and guilt. Ultimately, the architect of much of the ensuing uproar, is the only character who really gets what they want with very little consequence. The African American characters, Caroline included, merely get to appreciate what they always had, making do with their poor circumstance with a little less sadness and resentment, and maybe a little more consciousness. Noah selfishly gets what he needs. By its first workshop in 1997, the overt political statements, questioning the intent of JFK and the offense of Confederate monuments feel a little misplaced more than “very daring in 1963”, whilst the town’s outraged backlash to the desecration of the monument turns up missing.
Bryan’s washing machine, provide equal parts sass and wisdom without descending into
Caroline or Change runs for 2 hours and 30 minutes (including interval), from 20th November 2018 to 9th February 2019, 7.30pm at the Playhouse Theatre, and there are lots of deals for tickets to be had online, so there’s no reason to miss it!