Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Paul Minx: The Long Road South

By | Published on Thursday 7 January 2016


I must confess that my ears pricked up when I heard that ‘The Long Road South’ is to star Imogen Stubbs, an actress I really quite idolised in my younger days, and the lovely Michael Brandon, who will, in my head, forever be Dempsey, even though that show only ran for about two years in the mid-eighties.
Of course, after I’d moved on from being star-struck, I realised that the play itself – which was first staged back in 2014 at The Hope Theatre, and next week makes its way to The King’s Head – sounds really interesting. That being the case, I put some questions to the writer, Paul Minx.

CM: Tell us about the play – what’s the story? Where does it take us?
PM: The story is the tale of two black domestic workers in 1965 America, who want to march with the civil rights movement in Alabama. They need to get their wages from the white man they work for before they go. He, for many reasons, wants to keep them there. The play is about how they find the courage to stand up for themselves and demand what’s theirs.

CM: What themes does the play explore?
PM: The major theme of the play is racism in America – explicit racism but also the day-to-day (or casual racism). I think of my mother demanding that the black help only drink out of one particular cup. She taught me to believe that too. Ruling out casual racism is a lifelong and difficult to overcome. It’s a problem faced in America to this day.

CM: What inspired this script? What gave you the idea for it, and what made you decide that it would make a good play?
PM: The play was inspired by a black domestic worker who worked for my family when I was growing up in the 1960s. He was a second father to me. He was shy, and wanted to participate in the American civil rights movement, but was afraid of what might happen. Fortunately, he had a girlfriend who was more of a firebrand – she kept encouraging him. If she didn’t love him so much, I think she would have left him.

I thought it would make a good play because of the natural tension in the black-white relationships and the love story.

CM: Would you say that the play has any political motives, or agenda?
PM: That’s an interesting question. Yes, racism is bad, of course, but what is even worse is how it morally corrupts people. It destroys a person’s soul and deprives them of the ability to relate to others as individuals.

CM: The play was first staged back in summer 2014 at the Hope Theatre. Have you made any changes to it since then?
PM: The play has changed since then, yes. I worked quite diligently on clarifying the needs and conflict of the main character, Andre. He’s quite conflicted so the rewrites weren’t easy! The director, Sarah Berger, was quite helpful.

CM: As writer, how involved are you with the production? Do you make an active contribution, or leave it up to the director?
PM: I try to be actively involved in my productions, but nowhere near as much as when I was a “young playwright”. In earlier productions I used to go to every rehearsal, which must have irritated the actors (and director). Now I find it’s much more useful to attend periodically, to give fresh input as to how the production has changed.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the cast?
PM: We have a very talented cast. Imogen Stubbs is a British legend. I saw her portrayal of Emma in Betrayal at the National, a performance that changed my understanding of acting. Michael Brandon – a wonderful man – played the part of the father in the last run and won an Offie nomination for Best Male actor. Cornelius Macarthy, an actor raised in Sierra Leone, is a very powerful Andre. Krissi Bohn was a regular on Coronation Street for two years. Lydea Perkins plays the family’s teenage Lolita – she’s going to have a big career.

CM: What’s next for you? Are you working on any new projects?
PM: I am working on two new projects. One is an eight-part miniseries about the Norwegian Crown Princess, Martha, who fled the Nazis in 1940 and ended up in the States. While there she had an affair with Franklin Roosevelt. It’s in development for Norwegian and Danish TV. On the theatre front my new play, ‘Dreamland’, is in this year’s Arcola Playwrought Festival in February.

‘The Long Road South’ is on at the King’s Head Theatre from 12-30 Jan. See this page here for more info and to book tickets.