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|A CurtainUp London Review
Clybourne Park Continues Royal Court's Beinging on a Roll
The Royal Court is on a bit of a roll. After their hugely successful West End transfers of Jerusalem and Enron last year, their award-winning production of Clybourne Park has now moved to Wyndham's Theatre. Deservedly Olivier-nominated for best new play (Bruce Norris), best director (Dominic Cooke), best actress (Sophie Thompson) and best supporting actress (Sarah Goldberg), this must-see show fits very nicely into its new home.
Norris's clever riff on Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 masterpiece A Raisin in the Sun in the first act of his play (showing the same house in the fictitious Clybourne Park area of Chicago, this time from the white vendors' rather than the black buyers' viewpoint) is brilliantly done, but the sharp comedy-drama can easily be appreciated without knowing the earlier work. Equally ingenious is the way in which the second act shows how, fifty years on, though much has changed in the socio-cultural life of America, racial and territorial tensions still exert their disturbingly atavistic power, as the past is literally unearthed to end the play on a surprisingly poignant note.
The excellent cast are joined by two new members. Stuart McQuarrie (replacing Steffan Rhodri) gives a superbly bristly performance as Russ, a man on the edge of exploding with grief and anger, complemented by his modern-day gregarious builder Dan. And steeping into Martin Freeman's shoes is Stephen Campbell Moore, who also acquits himself well in the dual roles of the Rotarian racist Karl and politically incorrect Steve.
Clybourne Park's entertaining examination of topical issues of race, property, cultural values and changing demographics is one of those plays that, while it makes you laugh, also makes you look again at your own assumptions and prejudices.
Lizzie Loveridge's original London review which follows also includes a link to the New York premiere reviewed by Elyse Sommer. The play is booking to May 7, 2011 and reviewed by Neil Dowden based on February 10th performance at the Wyndham's Theatre, Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0DA
That's just a part of my history and my parents' history - and honouring the connection to that history - and, no-one myself included likes having to dictate what you can or can't do with your own home, but there's just a lot of pride, and a lot of memories in these houses, and for some of us that connection still has value, if that makes any sense? — Lena
Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park looks at the American family and their relation to property with an analysis of one house in Chicago and the demographic changes there over the last half century. Although specifically American, the concepts can also be related to in England as we have seen the gentrification or upward mobility of once deprived areas and also the whole scale taking over of inner city areas by immigrant communities. The difference in the UK is that the settlements, where people from the Indian subcontinent move in, are of people largely new to this country whose children will be first generation British but the issues of neighbourhood and ownership are universal.
Lucian Msamati as Albert, Lorna Brown as Francine and Martin Freeman as Karl (Photo: Johann Persson)
Like the performance Elyse Sommer saw in New York and the review of which I fully endorse, go here, Dominic Cooke as director has assembled a brilliant cast. Martin Freeman is outstanding, once an actor know for his part in Ricky Gervais' alternative comedy The Office, he is developing a range which will make him a serious contender for Best Actor awards. Freeman plays both Karl, the mealy mouthed spokesperson for the white homeowners in 1959 who are resisting the sale to the first black family and, in 2009, Steve, who is the man hoping to grossly and naffly redevelop the same Clybourne Park house. Sophie Thomson has the showcase part of the nervous, compromising hostess Bev in 1959 who twitters on endlessly in her net petticoat reinforced chintz dress while her husband Russ (Stefan Rhodri) seethes with the pain of the loss of his son. Sam Spruell neatly doubles as the awkward clergyman Jim desiring to offend no-one and later as Tom from the Residents Association there to examine the plans to build a house fifteen feet higher that those neighbouring it and hoping wildly unrealistically to get away by 4pm.
Robert Innes-Hopkins' set is quite magnificent from the 1950s ugly sprawling mansion with green wallpaper of the first act to the washed out look of bare plaster and lathe of a dilapidated, worn out structure 50 years later.
Of course Bruce Norris has written a comedy but with a dark undertow which reaches a climax in the second act when the racial lines are drawn, using racist jokes and black comedy to reveal entrenched attitudes. Lucian Msamati and Lorna Brown play the only black couple, deferential in the first act and as descendants of the first couple, confident and professional in the second and looking out for the interests of their heritage in this now African-American neighbourhood. I found that initially you laugh at Bruce Norris' fine observation of the ridiculous nature of human interaction and posing but that his themes have an altogether more lasting and satisfying effect. There is the slow after burn about the nature of land and ownership and cultural possession and what it is that makes up a diverse community and how we still regard otherness with suspicion.
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Written by Bruce Norris
Directed by Dominic Cooper
Starring: Lucian Msamati, Martin Freeman, Lorna Brown, Sam Spruell, Steffan Rhodri, Sarah Goldberg, Sophie Thompson
With: Michael Goldsmith
Design: Robert Innes-Hopkins
Lighting: Paule Constable
Sound: David McSeveney
Running time: Two hours with one interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000k
Booking at the Royal Court to 2nd October 2010
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 2nd September 2010 performance at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Royal Court, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)
©Copyright 2010, Elyse Sommer.
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