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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Jerwood Theatre, Royal Court


  Lucian Msamati, Lorna Brown and Martin Freeman/ Ph: Johan Persson

The Royal Court notches up another winner with Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park, a state-of-the-nation play that takes a searing – and searingly funny – look at Middle America’s racial divide, especially where property is concerned.
The time spanned is 50 years. Act One begins in 1959 while Act Two continues the story in 2009. The setting (courtesy of the excellent Robert Innes-Hopkins) is a bungalow in the northwest of Chicago. It has been put on the market by Russ (Stefan Rhodri) and his wife Bev (Sophie Thompson) mainly because of the bad memories it nurtures of their son Kenneth, who, after killing some innocent civilians in Korea, took his own life on his return.
Though the play begins in light-hearted mode with the mildly irritating Bev embarking on a riff about places with funny names, the mood soon darkens with the arrival of Jim (Sam Spruell), a sanctimonious neighbourhood priest, and Karl (Martin Freeman) chief honcho of the local resident’s association.
Karl has been informed that Russ has sold the house to a black family, a move he implores the couple to reconsider because of the impact it would have on property values in the area.
In the presence of Bev’s black maid Francine (Lorna Brown) and Francine’s subservient husband Albert (Lucian Msamati), Karl’s racial prejudices come to the boil in tandem with playwright Norris leavening an appalling situation by drawing laughter from some truly ugly foibles of human behavior.
Act Two is set in the same house, which, 50 years later, has become a dilapidated ruin. Clybourne Park is now a predominantly black neighborhood, and in a neat and ingenious twist, it’s a white couple who is hoping to buy and renovate the property. The local resident’s committee is black, and this time round it is they who are giving the white couple a hard time.
What initially appears to be an informal afternoon meeting with the concerned parties soon turns nasty as Steve, the property’s potential buyer, virtually accuses Lena, a black committee member, of racism.
In the funniest and most gasp-making scene in the play, political correctness bites the proverbial dust as a series of racial jokes becomes the conduit through which prejudice and incipient, on-going ethnic issues are aired.
The same seven actors who appeared in the first act double up in the second, with Martin Freeman, almost unrecognisable as Russ, now taking on the role of Steve, Sophie Thompson playing Steve’s pregnant wife Lindsay, and Lorna Brown switching seamlessly from diligent house maid to feisty Lena, as racist in her own way as Karl was in Act One.
Under Dominic Cooke’s impeccable direction, a brilliant cast, brilliantly cast, gives a great ensemble performance – as fine-tuned on the first night as you’d expect it to be on the last. If ever there was a candidate for a West End transfer, this is surely it.

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