Theatre Review - The White Card

Claudia Rankine’s provocative play about race, racism and white privilege is a joy from beginning to end and surely worthy of a West End transfer.  

Charlotte (Estella Daniels), a successful black artist, is invited into the Manhattan home of Charles (Matthew Pidgeon) and Virginia (Kate Copeland), wealthy art collectors of African American art, eager to acquire her latest series. Charles works in property and has made his money building private prisons in Iowa.

She is introduced to the couple by art dealer, Eric (Nick Blakeley) who, motivated by dollars, thinks they make a good match. When Charles suggests he could invite Charlotte to join the board of one of his art foundations, Eric observes it would help the “diversity issue”.

Charles and Virginia believe they are doing good by supporting the work of black artists, but Charlotte is not easily bought and is worried about the eager benefactors’ attitude towards race and buying art that depicts black victims.

Over the course of an evening their various prejudices are revealed. Virginia conflates the name of black artists, victims of racist murders and authors. We learn that she dismissed her black maid for the night, so that Charlotte does not feel uncomfortable. She insists on serving dinner herself, although, it’s revealed, this is a buffet – presumably prepared by her maid earlier.

Their son Alex (CJ Coleman) - who protests against Trump and campaigns for Black Lives Matter - reveals his own feelings of white superiority when he tells Charlotte of his anger that “your people” are being incarcerated.  Charlotte responds by asking: “Why not just say ‘people’?” 

Rankine  underlines how whiteness is seen as a social default and takes some well-aimed shots at liberal, well-meaning white people.

The final act is between Charles and Charlotte. When she turns her artistic gaze on Charles and the colour of his skin, it makes him uncomfortable but in Natalie Ibu’s finely judged production, it feels inevitable, and right. 

Until July 16

Originally published by Westminster Extra