Fringe Box



Review: Clybourne Park – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 5 May, 2016
Updated on: 5 May, 2016

Clybourne ParkBy Ferenc Hepp

Several warning notices about strong language greeted us at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre this week, for Mercury Theatre, Colchester’s production of Clybourne Park.

It was certainly warranted: this show is not for the easily offended. It was written by Bruce Norris in 2010 as a spin-off to Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play, A Raisin in the Sun.

The play premiered in New York in 2010, and it won the Laurence Olivier Award for best new play in 2011 and the Tony Award for best play in 2012.

The two acts are separated by 50 years, with Act One set in 1959 and Act Two in 2009. It features the same property in a Chicago neighbourhood, with the area prominently white, middle class families in the 1950s, but by 2009 an all-black neighbourhood.

This property also hides a rather sinister secret, which is a suicide by a young soldier returning from the Korean War, having been shunned by the community on his return.

The main role and the driving force within the play belongs to Karl (Ben Deery) as he reveals that the house is being bought by a coloured family, which has not been received well by the community, and therefore angry discussions and arguments ensue as they try and persuade the current owners, Russ (Mark Womack) and Bev (Rebecca Manley), to rethink the sale.

And really, that covers Act One. The setting does not change and the characters are introduced early. Deery does give a strong performance as Karl and Gloria Onitri is appropriately understated as the housekeeper together with her husband Albert (Wole Sawyerr), but accents come and go and I found that a lot of the script was padded and unnecessary.

We move forward into a reverse situation in Act Two, when the same area is now a black neighbourhood, the same house is very much run down, and the young white couple who are making drastic plans for the property are being confronted by the housing board.

The board members are played by Onitri and Sawyerr now in a much more powerful role and the transformation of these characters was interesting to see, although I feel that had more potential which was not fully utilised.

There are a lot of similitudes throughout the production about the property and even the origins of Neapolitan ice cream are related to racism. There is a joke uttered in Act Two which cannot be repeated for many reasons and causes further arguments, but I feel the situation in both acts is best summarised by Steve (the male half of the couple moving in, played by Ben Deery) who exclaims: “The history of America is the history of private property”.

There is a rather touching moment at the end of the play which involves the soldier who committed suicide and his letter to his parents, at which point I thought it would have been nice to see this sort of different dimension before, but despite all the anger and arguments and serious themes, there are some laughs along the way.

The judges of the Oliviers and the Tonys must have seen something in this play that I and some of my fellow audience members missed, but if you are not offended by strong language and will not feel uncomfortable confronted by racism issues, Clybourne Park runs at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre until Saturday, May 7 and tickets are available via the website: or by calling the box office on 01483 440000.

Star rating 3

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