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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Young Vic's Maria Theatre

By Matt Wolf

  Obi Abili and Nathaniel Martello-Wight/PH: Elliot Franks

Even if this weren't an unusually rich time for black theater in London, with this play opening within a day of the latest from Kwame Kwei-Armah to be followed by a Christmas repertory of two South African exports to the Young Vic mainstage, one could scarcely celebrate The Brothers Size enough and a young writer in Tarell Alvin McCraney who possesses much the same joyously distinctive sound as the music he so naturally folds into his work. I have to admit to being a sucker for Otis Redding's Try A Little Tenderness, a song that featured to scarcely less illuminating effect in the Jim Cartwright play, Road. But by the time McCraney gets to that immortal piece of music, chances are you'll have responded long before to a new American writer who on this evidence offers up a superabundance of that Redding trademark: soul.

In an unusual, deeply fortuitous coincidence of programming, the play's London premiere in the Young Vic's Maria space is running concurrently with its extended Off Broadway stand at New York's Public Theater, where the play was first seen in January as part of the Under the Radar Festival. And Bijan Sheibani's co-production here between the Young Vic and ATC dispels in a stroke any lingering sense there may be that local performers this side of the pond can't deliver American work, especially of the African-American variety. I haven't yet caught the New York production but can only join in the cheers that met the opening night curtain call of the three-person cast, Nathaniel Martello-Wight, Obi Abili, and Nyasha Hatendi, who collectively seemed thrilled to find most of the audience leaping to its feet. Is it great writing? Some may be put off by a degree of artifice and self-consciousness that - hey - if it worked for Brecht is fine with me. (The drawing of a chalk circle to define the playing space of Patrick Burnier's mostly bare stage marks out one self-evident influence.) But the recitation of stage directions in no way keeps us at arm's length from a humanity fuelling at every turn this story of two brothers who have travelled different roads in life. And who do the most gallant thing that in some instances someone can do for a beloved, which is to show the greatest affection by letting that person go.

Hatendi's Ogun, the elder brother, may not be the ideal role model for younger brother Oshoosi (Abili), himself fresh out of prison and in continual thrall to a onetime cellmate - Martello-White's Elegba - whose feelings toward Oshoosi would seem to exceed the purely platonic. The owner of an auto-repair shop, Ogun exists as straight man after a fashion as he takes in the various tales told in turn by a brother whom he loves and a third man who is used to being the life of whatever party's going. Is there room for the three of them within the boundaries demarcated not just on stage but in their imaginations? Perhaps not, the play suggests in its movement toward a reckoning of sorts that finds Ogun threatening to make a singular word out of the Brothers Size. The play ends not just with Otis Redding but with a bittersweet sense of both loss and release, the way forward achieved at the price of the defining relationship of the brothers' lives. Indeed, it's one of the tickling pleasures of McCraney's title that his own writing itself has size and dimension, lyrical passages for the most part avoiding undue self-poeticizing throughout the unbroken 90 minutes of the play.

The cast, entirely black British and RADA graduates all, easily accommodate the movement in and away from the dreamscape demanded by a text that receives i


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