Theatre Review - Clybourne Park

BRUCE Norris’s provocative exploration of race and real estate is given a timely revival at Park Theatre. The two halves of Clybourne Park could almost be seen as self-contained plays although Norris is keen to draw parallels between them both. It’s slickly directed by Oliver Kaderbhai who incorporates balletic scene changes into the action.

The first act is set in Chicago in 1959. Russ (Richard Lintern) and Bev (Imogen Stubbs) are in the midst of packing and moving home. The play falters a little at the beginning with a meandering discussion about Neapolitan ice cream, but when an angry white neighbour turns up the tension erupts.

Karl (Andrew Langtree) is determined to air his grievances. “The history of America is the history of private property,” he claims. Russ and Bev’s son, we learn, had committed suicide in the house after serving in the Korean war. In their hurry to move (and escape their trauma) they had accepted a lower than average offer and sold the house to the neighbourhood’s first black family.

Fifty years later, the roles are reversed when a young white couple buy the same property in what is now a predominantly black neighbourhood, signalling a new wave of gentrification. There is a community meeting to discuss their plans to demolish the house and build anew.

Prejudice is rife in both periods – it’s just the way it’s expressed that’s changed. In 1959 Bev talks kindly to her black maid Francine (Aliyah Odoffin) and tries to make her accept her unwanted silverware. However, Francine never forgets she is in service and neither do we. Karl acts as if Francine and her husband Albert (Eric Underwood) are invisible.

In 2009 prejudice continues to simmer away, except the white liberals present pretend it doesn’t exist. Lindsay (Katie Matsell) claims she can’t be racist because half her friends are black – although she can’t recall their names.

It’s a terrific script and the ensemble cast is sublime – Odoffin and former Royal Ballet dancer Underwood shine in their theatre debuts.

Until April 23

Originally published by Islington Tribune