Sunday, 29 August 2010

Clybourne Park - The Royal Court - 27 Aug 2010

There's a very funny sequence in the second half of Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park where the character start telling very non-PC jokes to each other. The audience is delighted and uncomfortable at the parade of offensive terms. In a play that deals not just with race and real state but also with terror of appearing racist and the pressure we put on ourselves to seem as unprejudiced as possible it is a moment of great release and impact. Clybourne Park is political theatre more preocupied with asking a variety of questions rather than supplying answers (that is fine by me, I prefer this sort).

The play concerns the story of a house - the first house is set in the 1950s, where the house is sold out for a far cheaper price than it should (and the audience will come to find out why) and the idea of a black family moving in upsets the comfortable, conservative, white community. After the intermission we are in the present day, witnessing the efforts of a young couple who have bought the house and plans to remodel it, while the neighbours are concerned with preserving the historical heritage of the building.

Clybourne Park really has it all to please the Royal Court audience, and most of the non-usuals too: the humour, the political bite, a gorgeous art direction, Dominic Cooke working his magic behind scenes, family secrets, a theatrical meshing of different periods, a flawless cast (impressive Martin Freeman and Sarah Goldberg, and how nice to see Sam Spruell on stage again, a revelation to me in Trafalgar's The Caretaker) and some nice writing (mainly in the second half).

But what the play likes is an edge. I found the first part a bit weak - the family drama was predictable and we never got a clear sense of the characters as real people on one hand and on the other it wasn't satiric enough to be a proper satire. The set by Robert Innes Hopkins is very detailed and believable but what goes on inside is a bit stuffy for my taste. The second half flows so much easily and there's a wonderful ghost moment when both periods mix in a very theatrical twist (that's good, theatre is supossed to be theatrical). Plays where different periods are represented on stage to illustrate a subject or to dig up secret histories seem to work very well - while I was seeing Clybourne Park I was constantly reminded of the best of this examples, the magnificent Three Days Of Rain. Here there were bits that felt heavy-handed (the predictable reappearing of the chest) and the general feeling of the play telling us that we are all a bit racist, really, didn't sit well with me but I liked the interesting questions that it posed. And the jokes were funny.

It never got to be the brilliant theatre event that it could have been, for me, but Clybourne Park is a very enjoyable, entertaining and pretty thoughtful play. The cast is lowkey and very sharp and though Sophie Thompson is getting a lot of press for her role(s) - she had the flashiest parts, after all - the whole cast is perfect, specially in the second part.

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