Theatre Review: Clybourne Park

Racial prejudices and taboos are dragged out into the open in CLYBOURNE PARK - which has just opened in the West End following a hit run at the Royal Court Theatre.

“ISN’T it possible that they’re, I don’t know, Mediterranean, or…?” ventures housewife Bev, on finding out that her house has been bought by a black family.

It is 1959 Chicago, and Bev and Russ are selling their house at a bargain price. But racial prejudices are dragged out into the open when their neighbours protest against the arrival of the first “coloured” family to the area – in the presence of the household’s black maid and her husband.

In their ungainly attempts at compensating for the racist views spouted by Karl the bigoted neighbour, Bev and Jim, a visiting minister, end up sounding just as bad (“Sorry, don’t we say negro now?”).

It is excruciatingly, embarrassingly funny, and made all the more pertinent by the dignified performances of Lorna Brown and Lucian Msamati as the black couple. In contrast, Sophie Thomson’s larger-than-life Bev ricochets around the stage in a wonderfully neurotic whirlwind of cringe.

Act Two takes us forward to 2009 and the same property is once more on the market – this time being sold by a black family to a young white couple who intend to knock it down and build a monstrosity on the land.

All appears civil as legal documents are slowly perused, but it soon becomes clear that in fifty years the only thing that has changed is that the racial issues, still present, are now unvoiced. They lurk like conger eels in the gloom, ready to lurch out at the slightest provocation.

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Like Bev in the 1950s, modern day Lindsey is desperate to come across as progressive and unsullied by a single racist sentiment – so it is all the more tooth-grindingly awful when she commits the biggest faux-pas in the big book of taboo and announces “half my friends are black!”.

If you missed Bruce Norris’ much f�ted play at the Royal Court, you’ll pay a lot more for it in its new West End home – but it’s definitely worth the wodge.

* Showing at the Wyndham’s Theatre in Charing Cross Road, WC2, until Saturday, May 7