One Night in Miami tells the story of four friends hanging out in a US motel room. But these are no ordinary people; they are four iconic figures from 1960s America.
Boxer Cassius Clay, activist Malcolm X, soul singer Sam Browne and American footballer Jim Brown are the pals in question.
Set on 25 February 1964 just after Clay beat Sonny Liston, the play takes place in real time as the quartet muck about like 20 and 30 something men do but also discuss racial rights and how the fight to give black people an equal place in society should be fought.
Cassius is on a high after becoming heavyweight champion of the world and is about to fully embrace the Muslim religion by taking the name Muhammad Ali (“how I am going to remember that?”, asks Miles Yekinni as Jim Brown with a knowing smile that us 2019 folk enjoyed).
But there’s a tension in the room as Malcolm berates Sam for not using his musical talents to fully represent the fight for black rights. Sam is happy to fight the cause quietly by watching the royalties roll in from white people covering songs he has written.
But by the end, he seems to be on side as Matt Henry delivers an extraordinary performance which absolutely wowed us with his incredible voice.
He had already stunned the audience earlier in the play when with clever lighting and sound we were transformed back to one of Cooke’s concerts. The only way to get a more authentic experience would be to find a time machine and see the man himself!
Sam and Malcolm clearly had a strong bond despite their differences on the struggle for equality which Henry and Christopher Colquhoun communicated superbly. It’s all the more poignant with a bit of historical knowledge as a year later both men were dead.
The whole play is set in the one motel room which is decorated in the way you’d imagine a 1960s American motel room to be decorated. We realised just how authentic it is though when Connor Glean, who plays Cassius Clay, took over the Bristol Old Vic’s Instagram Stories and showed the tiny details such as 1960s bathroom products, kitchen utensils and Malcolm X’s Quran and photo of his wife and children.
Even though many of these things can’t be fully seen by the audience, I love how the designer cared so much. As Glean said on Instagram, “it helps us actors feel like we’re really there in the moment”.
We won’t give too much more away but it is a brilliant show with a brilliant cast that discusses issues that are still very relevant today.
We would have given it five stars but we felt the interval was an unnecessary interruption that reduces the impact of the powerful ending.
But saying that, it’s a show we highly encourage you to go and see!
One Night in Miami is at Bristol Old Vic until 29 June.