Young Vic Theatre, London – until 23 January 2020
Over 30 years ago, African-American writer and satirist George C Wolfe presented a play in London called The Colored Museum. I have never forgotten it. A wicked satire on black American stereotypes, performed by black actors with white faces, it came to mind watching Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Pulitzer and Susan Smith Blackburn prize-winner.
Here was a female playwright, 30 years later, lambasting black stereotypes with similar spirit and impact, again from an African-American perspective, taking on too her own in a sense by placing it within the context of an American TV sit-com and then heavily subverting it.
That takes some guts. The degree to which it comes off can only be measured first by the prizes showered upon it and the packed audience, mainly white, the night I was at the Young Vic.
But the message is not only in the content. In her case, it’s very much tied up with the method, the form. Drury blows the traditional form sky high, introducing repetition, caricature and a final twist to which reviewers have been sworn to secrecy. Each audience must confront that particular journey each night.
Suffice to say, then, the characters involve a family meeting for a grandmother’s birthday treat which goes disastrously wrong, in which all the usual component factors are present: a perfectionist mother trying obsessively to make it all go with a swing, a compliant husband, a motor-mouth sister, and a young daughter at odds with it all – and the catalyst for change.
Designer Tom Scutt provides a handsomely sleek open-plan domestic home for director Nadia Latif to place her characters whilst choreographer Malik Nashad Sharpe and composer Xana emphasise – and you have to feel more than slightly satirise – the African-American love of boogie-sashay music and dance.
As to my personal reaction, admiration gave way to irritation, the caricature too extravagant, the message dulled by over-kill. Will it linger in my mind as did The Colored Museum or Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf, written in 1974 – both pieces that set out forcibly and angrily to present life from the black perspective and prick white consciences into greater awareness of white privilege.
Or before it Lorraine Hansberry’s Les Blancs (1970, finished posthumously by former husband, Robert Nemiroff), given such a lucid, powerful revival only three years ago by Yaël Farber at the National Theatre?
My own jury is out but for many I don’t doubt it will have as profound an effect. One can only hope so. Theatre at its best is an education along the road to understanding, and Fairview a remarkable, weighted step on the journey to the evils and injustice of white privilege and prejudice.
A new play by Jackie Sibblies Drury
Jasmine: Naana Agyei-Ampadu
Keisha: Donna Banya
Mack: David Dawson
Bets: Julie Dray
Beverly: Nicola Hughes
Jimbo: Matthew Needham
Suze: Esther Smith
Dayton: Rhashan Stone
Director: Nadia Latif
Designer: Tom Scutt
Lighting Designer: Jessica Hung Han Yun
Sound Designer & Composer: Xana
Choreographer: Malik Nashad Sharpe
Casting Director: Charlotte Sutton CDG
Voice and Dialect Coach: Hazel Holder
Fight Director: Kev McCurdy
Jerwood Assistant Director: Robert Awosusi
Boris Karloff Trainee Assistant Director: Yasmina Hafesji
British premiere of this production of Fairview at the Young Vic Theatre, London, Nov 28, 2019.
Originally commissioned by Soho Rep, New York, NY and Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Berkeley, Ca.
Subsequently produced by Theatre for a New Audience, Polonsky Shakespeare Center, Brooklyn, New York.
Runs at the Young Vic Theatre to Jan 23, 2020.
Review published on this site, Dec 20, 2019
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