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Review of Clybourne Park at Richmond Theatre

Clybourne ParkBruce Norris has written the kind of play that makes you want to run and buy a copy of the script. It is that good! The language, dialogue, set, content, directing and acting are all of a very high calibre.

Norris describes himself as an “irritating human being” who likes to ruminate on real-life arguments until they turn into the voices of the characters in his plays. The realism of the dialogue is testimony to his ability. No wonder Clybourne Park won the Olivier, Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Best Play Awards in 2010.

Clybourne Park accompanies Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun, written in 1959, that tells the story of the sale of a house in an all-white neighbourhood of Chicago to a black family. Norris sets his play in the same town and the same house; the first act is set in 1959 and the second, fifty years later. He looks at the sale in Lorraine Hansberry’s play from the viewpoint of the white neighbours and their black maid and her husband. Fifty years later we see the changes in society with all its accompanying prejudices, guilt, fury and hypocrisy.

We first meet Russ (Mark Womack), sitting eating his ice cream, and his wife Bev, played by Rebecca Manley. They have sold their house to a black family and have to suffer the anger of their neighbours. Their own suffering and disappointment at the failings of their neighbours in their own grief, have made their lives miserable. Womack and Manley draw us sensitively into the lives of their characters. Jim, a dreadful vicar, full of meaningless platitudes, played by William Troughton, and a demanding neighbour Karl (Ben Deery), both take the play to funny and uncomfortable places as racism and attitudes to race and colour are displayed. The old-fashioned jokes and vocabulary, in the “progressive community” that they believe they live in, are funny and awkward. The men are dominant in Act one and Russ who seemed quiet at first, becomes intent upon closing down all discussion: “No! No! No! No!” The maid Francine (beautifully played by Gloria Onitiri) is pulled into the discussion on race, much against her will, as is her husband Albert (Wole Sawyerr) and they listen with horror to the verbal onslaught of Karl and his questions about the ability of Negroes to ski!

Each actor plays two roles and in the second half Onitiri and Sawyerr are now affluent, defiant house owners, fighting to stop a development in their black area by a new white couple. The tables have turned but none of the characters comes out of it well. Principle is ridiculed: “You can’t live in a principle.” The joke stand-off is awkward, humiliating and hilarious and Onitiri’s tampon joke is memorably vicious.

The stage is beautifully set. The 1950s’ house and dialogue are securely in period – we are transported back in time to the browns, patterns and vocabulary of 1959. The transformation to the twenty-first century in Act two is also convincing as the community meet to discuss the building plans of the new couple. Rebecca Oldfield, who shone as the deaf girl Betsy in Act one, now plays a ‘yummy mummy’, trying to appear to be moral whilst also attempting to push her house plans through.

The director, Daniel Buckroyd, has done a fine job of bringing Norris’s text to us and making us laugh, gasp and shake our heads in horror, amusement and embarrassment – simultaneously! A fine cast and production deserve their success at the start of their tour and I would urge you to go to see Clybourne Park.

5 Star Rating

Review by Valerie Cochrane

Clybourne Park Overview
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’ andAppallingly funny’.

Bruce Norris’ hilarious satire took the West End by storm following a sold out run at the Royal Court Theatre in London. Acclaimed by critics and audiences alike since its debut on Broadway in 2009, Clybourne Park has been awarded Best Play at the Olivier Awards, the Evening Standard Best Play Award, the South Bank Sky Arts Theatre Award and Critics’ Circle Best Play Award.

Written by Bruce Norris, Directed by Daniel Buckroyd, Designed by Jonathan Fensom 

Cast (in order of appearance): Mark Womack, Rebecca Manley, Gloria Onitiri, William Troughton, Wole Sawyerr, Ben Deery, Rebecca Oldfield, Dan Gaisford

Richmond Theatre until 30th April 2016
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  • Valerie Cochrane

    Theatre enthusiast. Keen on all types of drama: physical theatre, Shakespeare, modern drama. Was a Drama and English teacher in a former life, now just an avid theatre goer!

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