Pros: Great acting. Great script. Great direction. The time flew by!
Cons: It could be argued that the stage set in the second half looked a bit ‘too rundown’. However that was the point of the decor!
There are some plays that are hard to categorise or are fairly forgettable in conceit. This is certainly not the case with Clybourne Park. It utilises black comedy to highlight the sensitive subject of race relations in the United States. The play encompasses the subtle ways racism can manifest and how little it has changed over the past five decades.
The play begins in 1959, in a fictitious middle-class area of Chicago, where Bev and Russ are in the last throes of packing to move house. Jim, their local pastor, pops around to get to the bottom of Russ’ emotional stupor and help him move on from what happened to his son Kenneth(who we learn served in the Korean War). The arrival of Karl Lindner −a mutual acquaintance and a representative of the local community − expresses in a very insensitive fashion, the objections that he and others had to Russ’ house being sold to a black couple. However, both Jim and Karl are unprepared for Russ’ unadulterated opinions. After reminding them of the way his son was treated by the neighbourhood after he returned home, he gives them the truth with both barrels.
In 2009, the second act, the action takes place in the same house, though the decor of the house now with its graffiti and general dilapidation is a shadow of its former glory. We learning that in the intervening years, Clybourne Park has been a predominately black area, though there are now signs of its gentrification. Meeting to discuss the purchase and boundaries of the property from the housing association are Lindsey and Steve, with Lena, Kevin, Tom and Kathy facilitating discussions. After a period of amusing but procrastinating discussions, it becomes apparent that not only do some of the present company have a historical link to the area, but that the house has its own tragic history.
One of the things I was so impressed about with this production is the uniformly high standard of acting. Often in a play, some actors are excellent while others (despite being very good) are not to the same standard. This wasn’t the case here. The fact that all these British actors spoke with faultless American accents certainly upped my estimation of them. Additionally, the characters in both time periods were played by the same actors. In some plays this might be a distraction, but for this production it worked to its advantage − a reminder that events echo time and time again.
Singling out performances in this production is like choosing your favourite child! However for the sake of having a few examples, I’ll mention a few names. Martin Philips gives a multi-layered performance as Russ, exhibiting the subtle, still signs of grief and depression, as well as pent-up anger at what he perceives as disingenuous concern from others. Maxine Edwards who played the domestic help Francine convincingly portrays a woman with many facets, with amusing deftness − polite and deferential to her employer, but the opposite of demure when talking to her husband Albert! In addition, Laura Kenward (along with Howie Ripley) expertly uses sign language and speaks credibly in the same way as a deaf person would.
So is there anything that anybody would find objectionable? There is certainly some ‘choice language’ at certain points, but it isn’t relentless or gratuitous. All in all, this production of Clybourne Park is hard to fault in any respect. It only runs until the end of the week (April 12th) so catch it while you can.
Author: Bruce Norris
Director: Pauline Armour
Producer: Bromley Little Theatre
Sound Design: Colin Adams
Set Design: Tony Jenner
Lighting Design: Nick Abbott and Howard Binysh
Box Office: 0844 847 1652
Booking Link: http://www.ticketsource.co.uk/bromleylittle
Booking Until: 12th April 2014