Lynn Nottage
Donmar Warehouse
Donmar Warehouse

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Patrick Gibson as Jason, Giles Terera as Montrellous, Gbemisola Ikumelo as Clyde, Sebastian Orozco as Rafael and Ronke Adékoluéjó as Letitia Credit: Marc Brenner
Giles Terera as Montrellous and Patrick Gibson as Jason Credit: Marc Brenner
Sebastian Orozco as Rafael Credit: Marc Brenner
Ronke Adékoluéjó as Letitia Credit: Marc Brenner

Clyde’s is a comedy with dark undertones that is set in Reading, Pennsylvania, the same run-down industrial town as her play Sweat, seen at the Donmar in 2018. Though quite independent plays, they share a character in Jason, an ex-convict whose past has left his face marked by right-wing tattoos. In Clyde’s, he has just started work in the eponymous truckers’ stop on the outskirts of town. For Jason and for all its staff, it provides a lifeline for they are all ex-cons in a society that provides no support when they come out of jail and doesn’t want to employ them.

Though its neon sign calls Clyde’s a diner, the kitchen staff spend most of their time making sandwiches and their senior member, named Montrellous, treats the sandwich as an art form, encouraging his colleagues to be inventive, expressing themselves through their creations and aiming to make the perfect sandwich, which he declares is the most democratic of dishes, for you can put anything between the two pieces of sliced bread.

Their boss Clyde couldn’t care less. She is a tough nut, been in prison herself but it isn’t compassion that drives her so much as being able to exploit people who would have difficulty finding another job. She has debts and her creditors are impatient; she just wants rapid turnover of the standard fare she thinks her customers want. Gremisola Ikumelo makes her an almost menacing presence, but there’s a moment when, up on the roof taking a cigarette break, we see her pour out her anguish; we are not told the current details, though her employees share a surprising story about what put her in prison.

We do get the back-stories and current situations of each of Clyde’s employees, all of whom get stunning performances. Patrick Gibson’s Jason is at first slow at understanding his job, awkward at fitting in but learning calm control and personal pride despite an outburst of near violence at one point. He strikes sparks off single-mum Letitia (known as Tish). Ronke Adékoluéjó makes her a real live wire, full of attitude and physicality, dancing round the kitchen like a bendy spring when things are going well.

Hispanic sous chef Rafael in his bandana is captivated by her. How does she manage to miss that his affections are serious? Sebastian Orozco gives him a childlike innocence and captures both his exuberance and his disappointment and is Montrellous’s enthusiastic disciple.

Montrellous is a little too good to be true. Past self-sacrifice makes him very saint-like. Giles Terera gives him as a guru-like gravity full of humanity though figure somewhat separate from his fellows. He delivers his eulogy to the sandwich with elegant enthusiasm. The character is perhaps less a leader than representing a philosophy in a play in which the aspiration to create the ideal sandwich could be a metaphor for the struggle to change ourselves and society, each in our own way.

Director Lynette Linton offers a production full of detail. Frankie Bradshaw’s setting feels ike a real workplace, and the cast chop and slice food as though on muscle memory as they concentration character but its a production that also takes off with a surreal celebration of new sandwich experiments as work stations swirl around the stage. Linton and movement director Kane Husbands (and, of course, the actors) make that seem perfectly natural and it adds an extra element to a funny and life-enhancing entertainment.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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