Review: Clybourne Park, Richmond Theatre

“Some would say change is inevitable”

It was fascinating to go back to Bruce Norris’ multi-award-winning play Clybourne Park more than five years after its London debut both at the Royal Court and then in the West End, particularly since I’d finally gotten round to seeing the play that it riffs on in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Daniel Buckroyd’s Made in Colchester production originated at the Mercury there last month and pleasingly will tour the UK throughout May, significantly extending the reach of this sharp comedy/

Clybourne Park is the Chicago suburb to which Hansberry’s Younger family intend to move in her 1959 play, its residents committee reacting by trying to buy them off to preserve what they call their ‘common background’ when what they mean is its all-white racial make-up. Norris explores both sides of this by setting his first half in the house the Youngers are trying to buy in 1959 but then skipping forward 50 years after the interval to reveal a changed neighbourhood, riven by the same problems.

For the area has now become a predominantly black community and such is the ever-fluctuating wonder that is the property market, it’s now a white couple looking to buy the house in the hope that gentrification is around the corner. Through the canny use of doubling – for example, Gloria Onitiri and Wole Sawyerr’s first act domestic servants are the second half’s defiant property owners – and a scabrously funny set of jokes that puncture the thin veneer of racial tolerance, it’s an endlessly thought-provoking play.

Buckroyd makes it work well, sparing us none of the horrific awkwardness of questioning black people’s ability to ski or finding out exactly why white women are like tampons. And for all its vicious humour, it never loses sight of the baser notes of human nature when it comes to the sacred god of property. Definitely worth catching if it comes anywhere near you.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Robert Day

Booking until 30th April, then touring to Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford; Cambridge Arts Theatre; Oxford Playhouse and Theatr Clwyd

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