Review: Clybourne Park

Challenging the bourgeois values is the flavour of Bruce Norris’ Best Play winner.  The play is a riotously funny yet troubling confrontation with the issues of race and poverty in America.  The first act is set in 1959 and the second in 2009, with a tight symmetry and almost parallelism between the two parts.  The comparison of racial acceptance and tolerance is given a wonderfully satirical approach whilst Norris strips away the camouflage of politeness to show the racism at the core, both then and now.

The first act sees a white, middle-class couple about to move from their Clybourne Park house to escape the memory of the suicide of their son.  The proposed sale of the property is to a black family, causing quiet controversy amongst neighbours.  The second act, fifty years later, is set in parallel, with a white couple planning to rebuild the house but accused by neighbours of destroying the history of an ethnically rich community.

The emotional charge within the performance is immersive and the command of such a difficult subject is fascinating.  The apathetic outlook of the character at the centre of the debate in the first act begins to trouble the audience, but when the same actor in the second act confronts again by way of a racist joke, the audience are almost writhing with discomfort.  The play is hugely sensitive but incredibly faces the biggest issues with the use of insensitive humour.  The writing is clever with the linked details between then and now bringing a warming familiarity to the second act.

Dominic Cooke’s production is brilliantly acted with Sophie Thompson showing her great versatility and comedic ability, with the audience instantly adoring her character in the first act.  The quality of performance from all is encouraging and the two (or one I suppose) sets from Robert Innes Hopkins bringing another brilliant play to the West End.  Howl with laughter at the wonderfully effervescent humour but you’ll need a moment to think when the curtain falls.

Runs until 7th May 2011 at Wyndhams Theatre.

Copyright © theatreJunki 2011.

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