Trouble in Butetown Reviews

A reviews round-up for Trouble in Butetown at the Donmar Warehouse, starring Sarah Parish.

The play is written by award-winning writer Diana Nneka Atuona (Liberian Girl), directed by Tinuke Craig (Jitney, The Color Purple), and is centred on the illegal boarding house in Butetown, Cardiff of Gwyneth Mbanefo, who toils tirelessly to keep everything afloat.

A talented cast includes Sarah Parish as Gwyneth, Samuel Adewunmi as Nate, Rita Bernard-Shaw as Connie, Ifan Huw Dafydd as Patsy, Zaqi Ismail as Dullah, Gareth Kennerley as Detective Hughes, Bethan Mary-James as Peggy, and Zephryn Taitte as Norman.

Trouble in Butetown is designed by Peter McKintosh, with lighting design by Oliver Fenwick, sound design by Emma Laxton, composed by Clement Ishmael, movement director – Ingrid Mackinnon, fight direction by Kev McCurdy and casting by Anna Cooper CDG.

Trouble in Butetown is now playing at the Donmar Warehouse until 25 March 2023.

Read reviews from The Stage, Evening Standard and more.

More reviews to follow

Book tickets to Trouble in Butetown at the Donmar Warehouse in London

Average Critics Rating
★★★

Trouble in Butetown reviews

The Stage
★★★

"Richly involving"

"Piercingly lovely ensemble drama set in wartime Tiger Bay"

"Atuona presents a gripping ensemble drama set among the occupants of an illegal boarding house run by doughty Welsh matriarch Gwyneth, who is mother to two mixed-race daughters, and whose Nigerian husband is missing in action."

"Tinuke Craig’s production takes time to find its pace, and the play never quite develops as much as it promises. But it is richly involving, warmly and wittily observed, and immensely moving – and the performances are gorgeous."

"Peter McKintosh’s glowing design offsets an interior of cosy clutter with the steel hooks and chains of the docks, and if the writing is at times a little schematic, there’s a tangy sense of place here. And Atuona’s vivid characters are irresistible, in a drama that, at its best, has a piercing loveliness."

Sam Marlowe, The Stage
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The Telegraph
★★★★

"Smart writing and two terrific debuts in this tale of racial tension"

"Samuel Adewunmi and Rita Bernard-Shaw seem to fall in love before your eyes in this Cardiff-set Second World War drama"

"Touchingly conjuring a bygone, valiant era, Trouble in Butetown is a smartly researched and imagined play of a sort I’d worried was going the way of the dodo. Allied to an old-fashioned relish for casually well-rounded character and page-turning plot, the British-Nigerian playwright offers a corrective to the vogue for framing our social history in crude terms of racial antagonism. Atuona seeks out the melting-pot."

"Though it errs on being too neat at times, the overall effect is of something warm, spontaneous and true, the ensemble – directed by Tinuke Craig – beautifully serving low-key moments and high-stakes shifts."

"Commendable though a gradually softening Parish is, the night belongs to two professional stage debutants: Samuel Adewunmi’s Nate and Rita Bernard-Shaw’s Connie..."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
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The Evening Standard
★★★

"An enjoyable piece of hokum"

"The title, over-neat plot and overemphatic acting recall a charming postwar British B-movie"

"An illegal guesthouse in Cardiff’s Tiger Bay docks during World War Two stands as a multicultural refuge from the racist world outside in this enjoyable piece of hokum."

"Love blossoms and wilts, and all sorts of drama and history is played out in an improbably short time - and in an impossibly small living/dining room created by designer Peter McKintosh."

"Mostly, though, it’s a comedic slice of life with a thriller element tacked on."

"Parish’s Gwyneth battles through the turbulence, scowling and with cheekbones aflare, like an effigy on a ship’s prow. Rita Bernard-Shaw is a beguiling but jittery Connie, while Samuel Adewunmi is loose and indistinct as Nate. Both are making their stage debuts here, and it shows."

"Craig’s production is consistently entertaining. And beneath its covering of fuzzy warmth, it reminds us how mixed British society has always been, and how recently labels like “coloured” or the N-word were bandied around."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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The Times
★★★

"Wartime Cardiff comes to life"

"For the second time running, the Donmar is offering a defiantly old-fashioned drama with the Second World War as its backdrop. But whereas Lillian Hellman’s Watch on the Rhine was set among Washington’s cocktail classes, Diana Nneka Atuona’s flawed but engaging play takes place much closer to home, in Cardiff’s Tiger Bay, a district where black, white and brown have mixed for generations on end."

"Tinuke Craig’s production has the aura of one of those well-intentioned films from the Forties or Fifties that you might stumble across on a cable channel."

"But even if the plotting lurches into melodrama, the actors, led by Sarah Parish as Gwyneth, bring the words to life. Splashes of humour keep sentimentality at bay..."

"Trouble in Butetown is a glimpse of another time, another world."

Clive Davis, The Times
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The Guardian
★★★

"Humanity and heroism in wartime Cardiff"

"While Diana Nneka Atuona’s deft script could do with a final polish, its heart, humour and spirit sing in the hands of a luminous cast"

"... this is a fascinating and eminently entertaining production, directed by Tinuke Craig, which unpicks its issues with a lovely lightness of touch."

"The script is deft, never preaching, but some elements are one step removed from a final polish: the winning humour jars in the later, darker scenes when the stakes are raised; a love story feels tacked on and a surge of melodrama comes with clunky plot-turns toward the end."

"Many of these cracks are smoothed over by the luminous cast... Together they breathe humanity into every line, and make this play sing."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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i News
★★★

"An underpowered portrait of wartime life in Cardiff"

"The standout performance in Diana Nneka Atuona’s new play comes from 10-year-old Rosie Ekenna"

"The trouble with too many new dramas set on the home front during the Second World War is that while the characters might use the right sort of language, we get little sense that they are actually living through a war, day in and day out. This is just one of the problems afflicting, Trouble in Butetown, Diana Nneka Atuona’s well-meaning but underpowered new work, in which the evening’s standout performance comes from a 10-year-old girl."

"Adewunmi, making his stage debut, has a habit of speaking with his back partially turned to the audience, which leads to audibility issues in Tinuke Craig’s production."

"Atuona’s ripe scenario offered richer pickings than she has managed to harvest"

Fiona Mountford, i News
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TimeOut
★★★

"Diana Nneka Atouna’s gentle wartime thriller offers a snapshot of a diverse ’40s Cardiff"

"Despite the thrillerish elements of the plot, Atuona’s drama is a gently-paced affair that luxuriates in its intensely likeable cast of characters: there are particularly good turns from Taitte as loveable but provocative Norman and Rosie Ekenna as Gwynneth’s sweet, eccentric younger daughter Georgie (she alternates the role with Ellie-Mae Sieme)."

"The basic problem with ‘Trouble in Butetown’ is that it’s essentially reclaiming a pretty MOR genre of writing. Its ambling plot is only moved on by some pretty hackneyed shoves forward... There’s the frustrating sense, I think, that there’s a bit more potential to ‘Trouble in Butetown’ than we actually get, that there’s a fresher style of play in there somewhere."

Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut
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The Observer
★★★

"Diana Nneka Atuona brings wartime Cardiff to life"

"Diana Nneka Atuona draws on the place’s well-known qualities to make Trouble in Butetown, a warm-hearted, awkwardly paced play set in the second world war"

Tinuke Craig’s production has lively local moments."

"The particular flavour of the area is fascinating. But the plot is overactive; the strongest episodes don’t have room to breathe."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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📷 Main photo: Trouble in Butetown - Sarah Parish and Rita Bernard-Shaw. Photo by Manuel Harlan

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