Having garnered Best Play awards from the Evening Standard and the Critics Circle, Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park has waddled away from its original residence of the Royal Court with a certain swagger.
Spinning off from 1959's classic play A Raisin In The Sun, Norris has created a very clever and contemporary examination of prejudice which holds the microscope up to discrimination on the basis of not just race but also physical or mental disability. At the same time, this is a very sharp and very funny study of modern manners, which shocks and disturbs just as much as it entertains.
In 1959, we meet married couple Russ and Bev in their dining room, discussing capitals of the world. Their forced dialogue grates until we see that they are coping with a deep grief: their son’s lease on life has elapsed and, in consequence, Russ is clinically depressed, Bev is permanently borderline hysterical and they are selling their house toute suite to the first buyers (a decidedly unwelcome black family).
In the second half, we are forwarded fifty years on to Obamaland. The physical setting and cast remains the same but there are a new set of characters and an inverse power ratio as a white couple attempt to inveigle their way into what is now a black neighbourhood.
Norris takes pains to reveal the story slowly with each turn and twist highlighting the paper-thin wall between prejudice and ignorance. The two halves of this ensemble piece share many thematic motifs — again and again, words and ideas from the first half reappear later. Dominic Cooke superbly directs the quickfire script, which is flooded with bons mots and isn't scared in either half to use genuinely jolting profanity up to and including the c-word.
Unlike another recent West End transfer, the much overhyped Ghost Stories, which has attracted no small amount of opprobrium, Clybourne Park has the potential to shock everyone, especially during the second half, and doesn't rely on special effects to justify the ticket price. The play's ending is a chilling touch of genius, a final reminder from Norris of the power of theatre.