Guest contributor Paul T. Davies reviews Clybourne Park at Mercury Theatre for Keep Colchester Cool.

REVIEW: CLYBOURNE PARK ★★★★★

How wonderful to see a contemporary, thought provoking, intelligent and remarkable play on the main stage of the Mercury Theatre presented by the residential company, Made in Colchester. Bruce Norris’s provocative play is set in one house in Clybourne Park, a neighbourhood of inner city Chicago in 1959 in the first half, and fifty years later in the second act. Sweeping changes have moved the location from a predominantly white neighbourhood to predominantly black, and on the verge of gentrification. Norris dares to tackle the thorn in America’s side, race, and Daniel Buckroyd’s beautifully nuanced and terrifically acted production serves the playwright magnificently.

Seven of the actors play two contrasting roles in each act, and like the best of Arthur Miller, Norris shows us the fault lines in the American Dream by examining the small routines – notions of family and neighbourhood values, tensions within marriages, the brittleness of polite society in the first half, and the deep racism that hides behind apple pie politeness. In the second act, the fragile veneer of political correctness is chipped away, and ultimately the play shows that the past cannot be buried. Jonathan Fensom’s excellent design tells the story of the house as well as the actors do.

It’s a terrific ensemble, and it seems a shame to single any of the performers out, but I particularly loved Mark Womack’s grieving Russ, a father whose son returned from the Korean War damaged, and Gloria Onitiri is outstanding as feisty Lena. But each actor performs a remarkable transformation between the two acts, William Troughton almost unrecognisable as Jim/Tom. As the dialogue pings round the auditorium, as it becomes a passionate play of ill manners, the ghost of Kenneth the soldier (Dan Gaisford) appears and we are taken right back to buried secrets, non communication, and a past that needs looking at.

Hearing the rhetoric today of Trump and Britain First and the struggles to hold onto civil rights only recently won, the play has grown in relevance over the last six years. It was a brave, and inspired, programming choice, and the production goes on tour after its Colchester run. If you like your theatre intelligent and sassy, this is the show to see!

Until April 23rd at the Mercury Theatre 01206 573984, then on tour, visit www.mercurytheatre.co.uk

PAUL T. DAVIES


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