Theatre review: Clybourne Park

Posted on: 08 September 2010 by Mark O'haire

Racism rears its ugly head when property is at stake in Bruce Norris’s acerbic satire Clybourne Park, directed by Dominic Cooke.

The year is 1959, the place a smart Chicago suburb where middle-class white couple Russ and Bev are selling their desirable two-bed for a knock-down price to a black family to erase the memory of the suicide of their Korean vet son.

This sale which enables the first black family to move into the neighbourhood creates ripples of discontent amongst the cosy white urbanities of Clybourne Park who accuse the couple of undermining property values.

We then move forward in time to 2009 where the same property is being bought by Lindsey and Steve, a young white couple, whose plan to raise the house and start again is met with a similar response by amongst others the great niece of Russ and Bev’s black maid, who accuse the interlopers of destroying historic memories of an ethnically rich community. As the arguments rage and tensions rise, ghosts and racial resentments are once more uncovered. Are the issues festering beneath the floorboards actually the same 50 years on?

This American playwright’s sharp comic look at morals and prejudices is both subtle and insightful, revealing racism to be complex and layered, manifesting itself in distinctly different ways. Despite the advent of time 50 years on, tensions still persist and so do toxic social clichés. It’s as if we have learnt little from the blinkered attitudes of the past. Norris’s writing is funny, punchy, at times downright rude, but raw, realistic and honest so we really believe in the characters and the situations in which they find themselves.

Furthermore director Dominic Cooke extracts great performances from his accomplished cast, namely Martin Freeman, Sophie Thompson, Lorna Brown, Sarah Goldberg, Lucian Msamati, Sam Spruell and Michael Goldsmith, all of whom manage to bring their characters vividly to life.

In short then this startling and unsettling exploration of the fault line between race and property marks another feather in the Royal Court’s cap and richly deserves a West End transfer.

By Laurence Green

Where: Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre

When: plays until 2 October 2010

Box Office: 020 7565 5000

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