It is Pittsburgh, 1969. There’s a controversial new president in the White House, and racial tensions are on the rise.

The parallels to the present day in American playwright August Wilson’s Two Trains Running are obvious and make it even more compelling.

The play, which comes to Oxford Playhouse on Tuesday, tells the story of t seven African American characters –all regulars of Memphis Lee’s restaurant, who are struggling to cope with the turbulence of a rapidly changing world. The diner is in threat of being torn down, a casualty of the city’s renovation project that is sweeping away the buildings of a community. But while the houses are disappearing, the area’s spirit remains.

“ I loved the characters and location in which it was set,” says director Nancy Medina.

“All the characters in the play are invested in this restaurant and its future. Most of the characters have come from the South and as the story unfolds we come to understand the reasons why many fled, escaping terrorism and seeking better opportunity up north.

“The displacement of a people is a theme I am very much interested in, as a child of the diaspora, I too am constantly searching to understand my past and roots and for a place to belong.

Oxford Mail:

“ Two Trains Running is an extremely layered play which looks at a complicated American history through the prism of everyday life. The characters are familiar to me, the unsung heroes of normal daily living, trying to get by, who have strong, important voices and opinions that only get aired in private.

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“That aspect really spoke strongly to me in wanting to direct this play, as I grew up with these people all my life.

“My family is from the Dominican Republic and my parents emigrated to NYC in 1966. I have met all these characters either as members of my family or people in the neighbourhood, to be able to amplify the voices I grew up with is an immense privilege.”

“What I find to be most profound is that everything the characters speak about in 1969 is still relevant to us in 2019: issues with police brutality, a rigged economic system, housing inequalities, crime, poverty, trauma, mental illness, race hostilities.

“This play is very political in very subtle ways and I found that to be very powerful. The element of protest is one I wanted to draw out and put a focus on because these people’s lives matter.

Oxford Mail:

“The humour in the play also drew me to it, there is no better resistance to fighting oppression then to embrace joy, laughter and the beauty in humanity.”

The play stars Geoff Aymer, Ray Emmet Brown, Derek Ezenagu, Andrew French, Leon Herbert, Michael Salami and Anita-Joy Uwajeh.

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Nancy, who is the winner of the 2018 RTST Sir Peter Hall Director Award – which recognises emerging directors of exceptional potential – says there is a lot for the audience to take away.

“I hope that audiences will engage with a story that at first may feel foreign to them but at the heart is universal,” she says. “It’s a story in which human beings fight for self preservation, dignity, self worth, love, their dreams, their right to just be.

“I hope people leave the theatre and have deep conversations on history and how many of the themes are still being played out today. And I sincerely wish that the conversations move on to action, that people ask themselves serious questions on what they can do to de-colonise their minds and make a better future for our children.”

Oxford Mail:

She goes on: “ Our theatrical climate is begging for untold stories. Many stories are out there, they just need to be produced and staged. Theatres have safeguarded their spaces for financial and pragmatic reasons and have sheltered the public by mainly staging productions that are risk averse or which fall in line with what they deem as entertainment or high art. We’ve lost sight of what art is meant to do, that risk isn’t always negative and that there isn’t just one way to tell a story or just one story to tell.”

  • See it: Two Trains Running is at the Oxford Playhouse until Saturday 28 September. This production is the first time the play is being performed regionally.
  • Times: Tue to Thu & Sat eves 7.30pm, Fri eve 8pm, Thu & Sat mat 2.30pm
  • Tickets: £10 to £30, with discounts available, from the Ticket Office on 01865 305305 or online at