The Tragic Tale Of The Scottsboro Boys: See It Now Or Regret It Forever

Posted on 3 February 2015

If you pass by the Garrick Theatre at the moment, you’ll see posters showing a company of smiling young men, singing, dancing and generally looking like they’re having the time of their lives. And so you might be surprised to learn that The Scottsboro Boys is far from a happy story. In fact it’s the opposite; a tragic and compelling tale of injustice and racism that leaves you speechless and furious.

The show, which transferred to the West End last year after a sell-out season at the Young Vic, might not be one many people have heard of. Certainly I hadn’t – and I went in knowing very little about it. It’s based on the true story of nine young black men falsely accused of raping two white girls in 1930s Alabama. They maintained their innocence for years throughout a series of rigged trials in front of all-white juries, and their case went on to divide the nation.

The boys’ story is presented by a troupe of minstrels, led by the only white member of the cast, The Interlocutor. What begins as an entertaining production, in which almost every white character is portrayed as comical and ridiculous, soon turns sinister when it becomes clear how serious the boys’ situation really is. By the time the show ended, you could have heard a pin drop in the theatre. If there are more chilling words than, ‘The truth will not set you free,’ I don’t know what they are.

With a set consisting solely of a few chairs, arranged at various times to represent a train, a prison cell, a bus and a courtroom, the power of The Scottsboro Boys lies in its simplicity. There are no distractions; you have no option but to watch the horror unfolding in front of you. And the cast are simply phenomenal, particularly Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays Haywood, and Julian Glover as the Interlocutor, a seemingly jolly ‘father figure’ who appears to be on the boys’ side – at first.

The show also boasts some really lovely musical numbers, most memorably ‘Go Back Home’, a gentle and desperately sad song performed by the young men as they await their fate in prison. In the more upbeat moments, there are shades of Chicago, which isn’t surprising since the shows were both composed by John Kander and Fred Ebb.

One thing I should mention – the show is 1 hour 45 minutes and doesn’t have an interval. I was shocked by the number of audience members unable to sit still that long without needing a bathroom break – so it might be worth remembering this before curtain up.

The Scottsboro Boys will close on 21st February so don’t wait around – this is a show not to be missed. But on your way out, you may view those smiling pictures at the front of the theatre rather differently.

Liz Dyer 

Don't miss your chance to see this powerful production before it closes 21st February! Book your The Scottboro Boys tickets now!