Clybourne Park is described by playwright Bruce Norris as a parallel play to Lorraine Hansbury’s A Raisin in the Sun and over the course of the two acts we are shown the story of what might have directly preceded Hansbury’s Younger family moving into the Clybourne area and where the community might have ended up fifty years later as a result.
Raising questions about the perception of race, the nature of ownership and what it means to be offended, Norris’s play is blunt and argumentative, and goes right for the jugular in terms of asking some of the trickier questions associated with discussing race in a ruthlessly politically correct society. His writing is smart, fast-paced and funny and certainly gives the cast plenty to work with. The set, and the change between acts, looks fantastic and does much to really illustrate the two different times in which the action takes place.
Through the first act, Mark Womack and Rebecca Manley, as Russ and Bev respectively, play a convincing couple still reeling from the loss of a child gone far too soon. Their last moment on stage in the first act is particularly heartbreaking. They are joined early on by local clergyman Jim (William Troughton) who has arrived as Bev’s behest to try and get Russ to open up. Troughton’s Jim is saccharine and almost a little over-bearing but soon takes the hint when Russ rejects his help. Before he has a chance to make his exit, though, they are joined by Karl and Betsy Lindner (Ben Deery and Rebecca Oldfield respectively), a local couple, expecting their first child. Karl is a Rotarian and arrives to, with little tact and heaps of uncomfortable energy, persuade Bev and Russ not to sell to a ‘coloured family’. Bev’s maid, Francine, brought to life by the wonderful Gloria Onitri, is a woman looking for no trouble and a quiet life, aided by her husband Albert (Wole Sawyerr), but unfortunately finds herself at the end of an awkward line of questioning from the increasingly frantic and intense Karl.
In the second act, we find the tables turned as Steve and Lindsey (Deery and Oldfield) attempt to get their plans to build a new property approved by the local community council, represented in modern day by Lena and Kevin (Onitri and Sawyerr). This time we see the argument reversed as Lena questions the motivation for moving into what has now become an area of some cultural and sentimental significance for the large number of black families that live there and suggests that Steve and Lindsey’s plans might decrease the cultural value of the area. Manley’s second act character Kathy, a lawyer working the new homeowners, proves hilariously annoying with her irrepressible ability to bring every story back around to herself.
Daniel Buckroyd has brought together a fantastic cast, who ably tackle the heated conversations littered through the show with aplomb and though, for me, the first act started out a little slow, the last moments of each act are electric. Rebecca Oldfield is equally endearing and funny, particularly as Lindsey, whilst Gloria Onitri makes the most of both of roles, giving us the most stark contrast between the two. Ben Deery was a personal favourite with his portrayal of Steve, desperate to make his point without initially being politically incorrect, but ultimately coming off as incredibly insensitive. The comic highlight of the show is a face off between the two couples as they try to one up each other with a series of increasingly offensive jokes.
There is no wonder why the original productions were lauded and heaped upon with awards and I am confident that this production, which sets out on tour soon, will be equally praised and an all-round success.
Review by Ben Powell
UK Regional Première
By Bruce Norris
In its first national tour, the razor-sharp satire Clybourne Park lifts the lid on race and real estate in a fictional Chicago neighbourhood. Presented by Mercury Theatre Colchester.
The swinging sixties are just around the corner as a black family move into a suburban white enclave, triggering all too predictable mutterings from the neighbours. Fifty years on, we return to the same house in 2009 as gentrification sets in and the roles are reversed. One skilful ensemble of actors play two sets of characters in a play hailed as ‘Shockingly entertaining’ and ‘Appallingly funny’
Director: Daniel Buckroyd
Cast: Ben Deery, Dan Gaisford, Rebecca Manley, Rebecca Oldfield, Gloria Onitiri, Wole Sawyerr, William Troughton, Mark Womack
Mercury Theatre Colchester
8th–23rd April 2016
Book tickets for the Mercury Theatre