by Bruce Norris.
Royal Court (Jerwood Theatre Downstairs) Sloane Square SW1W 8AS To 2 October 2010.
Transferred to Wyndhams Theatre 32 Charing Cross Road WC2H 0DA To 7 May 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 482 5120/020 7565 5000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 4 September 2010 at Royal Court (Jerwood Theatre Downstairs).
Black and White red in tooth and claw.
It seems a realistic domestic interior as the curtain rises (itself an unusual phenomenon in Sloane Square): a sitting-room with front-door, and a dining-room behind. No sooner glimpsed than Robert Innes-Hopkins’ set seems too real – the clearly-defined lines, the over-tall doorways, the steep staircase. It all seems placed a bit too close for comfort.
It’s an uncomfortable stereotype of 1959 America (like the second act set 50 years later, a Saturday afternoon between three and four o’clock). Everyone is typical middle-class America (the Black servant and her husband knowing their place and keeping their counsel). Such stereotyping is only funny for a while, but soon the significance of the year gains new resonance. Apart from being the end of America’s dreaming decade, 1959 saw the premiere of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, where a Black Chicago family plans a move to the city’s all-white Clybourne Park.
In Raisin an oh-so-reasonable White bigot tries to buy them off. Here, he visits the White sellers to dissuade them. There’s been no windfall for the family moving in; the property’s dipped in price because of an event in its recent past that still haunts householder Russ.
With sharp whiplashes of dialogue alternating sugar-streaks of parody/pastiche, playwright Bruce Norris makes clear that racial prejudice runs parallel with reductive views of women and people with disabilities. Then, a half-century on, Clybourne’s become a place where a White family moving in is controversial. Racial hostility hides behind planning regulations, while the play examines inbuilt prejudice, as did David Halliwell’s Prejudice in the seventies at Sheffield’s Crucible Studio (where it engendered a quietly polite protest nightly).
Everything’s become 21-st century informal around the tension, in dialogue now post-Mamet colloquial in writing and delivery. Sugary politeness piles-up but underlying hostility, once naked, is redder, plus sharper-toothed and clawed, with humour becoming a weapon of choice.
Increasingly Norris points-up parallel details, before letting the dark secret come from the attic in a quiet ending too liberally laced with the irony of hindsight. Yet this is a fine play, with exemplary performances throughout Dominic Cooke’s impressively detailed production.
Russ/Dan: Steffan Rhodri.
Bev/Kathy: Sophie Thompson.
Francine/Lena: Lorna Brown.
Jim/Tom: Sam Spruell.
Albert/Kevin: Lucian Msamati.
Karl/Steve: Martin Freeman.
Betsy/Lindsey: Sarah Goldberg.
Kenneth: Michael Goldsmith.
Director: Dominic Cooke.
Designer: Robert Innes-Hopkins.
Lighting: Paule Constable.
Sound: David McSeveney.
Voice coach: Bardy Thomas.
Dialect coach: Penny Dyer.
Fight director: Bret Yount.
Assistant director: Kate Hewitt.