Review: Clybourne Park

Offensive, racist and very funny

By John Nathan, September 7, 2010

Royal Court Theatre, London SW1

Martin Freeman

Martin Freeman

There is a white guy in Lorraine Hansberry's classic, Chicago-set, 1959 play, A Raisin in the Sun, who offers the African-American Younger family money to not move into a house in his white neighbourhood, Clybourne Park.

It is this house, that scene and that guy (played here by Martin Freeman) on which American writer Bruce Norris's has built his gobsmackingly entertaining response to Hansberry's play.

Dominic Cooke's stunningly performed production is set in 1959, just before the Youngers move in, and then in 2009, just before a white couple take possession of the now decrepit building.

It kicks off in what seems to be the world of 1950s sit-com where people talked in bland cheery banter about anything as long as it was not important; where the elephant in the room could be ignored even if it was sitting on the sofa playing a banjo.

Here, the two ignored subjects include the racist attitudes of white people who think they are civilised, and grief for a dead son.

By peeling back the veneer of polite language in both eras, Norris not only reveals the yawning chasm between what people say and what they think, but that racial politics have not moved on as far as we like to believe.

It climaxes in an avalanche of fantastically offensive exchanges between the white, black, and gay members of a Clybourne Park residents' association that had the audience gasping
in shock then rolling in cathartic laughter at the utter absence of political correctness.

On that subject Clybourne Park is not as revelatory as David Mamet's controversial Oleanna, which almost single-handedly exposed the issues raised by the PC phenomenon, but it has much of its power and reflects our society just as truly.

(Tel: 020 7565 5000)

Last updated: 12:56pm, September 14 2010