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Fairview: Young Vic Theatre

(seen at the afternoon performance on 6th January 2020).

Jackie Sibblies Drury won the Pulizer Prize for this examination of the contemporary Black American experience. The lady is also close to taking a prize for the most impossible to comment on play without spoilers. The monkey is, therefore, going to keep the opinion short and leave out all the details which may ruin it for those who haven’t yet seen it.

The question raised is whether black and white families are both able to exist without judgement of the other. More specifically, can a middle-class college-educated black family occupy entirely unselfconsciously the same space as their white peers, on an absolutely equal footing?

For the monkey, it comes done to the idea that to occupy a space, you have to have the confidence to take it. This family does so at the start of the play. As the action progresses, and theatricality offers the chance to explore, the writer takes the opportunity (to the monkey’s mind) undermine her own arguments by the end.

There’s also a cultural gap, it felt. This play – going by reviews – has considerably more impact in the USA, as our culture and attitudes are different. Here, black history is skewed towards the 1950s generation, rather than plantation slavery, and though the struggle against prejudice is identical, the starting point is very different. Further, the British class structure excludes many groups based on far more than skin colour, making the experience we are presented with seem over-simplified by comparison.

Still, the production itself is excellent. Tom Scutt’s typical American suburban house is impressive – though oddly there appears no space but the dining room table to prepare vegetables... despite the lavish kitchen upstage.

Director Nadia Latif and choreographer Malik Nashad Sharpe interpret, in particular, the first two-thirds of the play with vibrancy detailed to serve the script to perfection.

Charlotte Sutton assembles a cast to delight. Nicola Hughes (Beverly) is simply one of the best actors currently working on a London stage. Characterisation and diction perfect. Husband Rashan Stone (Dayton) cannot help but have chemistry with her – both delight in his comic timing and obvious affection.

The other double-act is between Aunt Naana Agye-Ampadu (Jasmine) and niece Donna Banya (Keisha). Their opening encounter is magical, both actors going on to establish close connections and represent ambition structured by the security they feel around them.

Smaller roles are well handled by the rest of the company – David Dawson (Mack), Matthew Needham (Jimbo), Julie Dray (Bets) and Esther Smith (Suze) as the author’s points unfold.

That they are open so widely to stimulating conversation proves the effectiveness of the writing in itself. The monkey was left feeling able to argue so many points too. In a way, it felt that undermined the intention of the author. The result was leaving it somewhat dissatisfied that the play operated as fully as intended.

It’s conclusion? A good experiment, but not much more than that.

3 stars.

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