Theatre in Wales

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Great Script Gets A Production to Match

At RWCMD

RWCMD- Clybourne Park , Richard Burton Theatre Cardiff , March 30, 2012
At RWCMD by RWCMD- Clybourne Park “Clybourne Park” is held as a peak of Dominic Cooke’s tenure at the Royal Court. It is a brave move by David Bond to bring it so swiftly to Cardiff. It follows on from premieres for work by Tracy Letts, Suzan-Lori Parks and Michael John LaChiusa. RWCMD continues to provide an indispensable service to theatre in Wales.

“Clybourne Park” illustrates a remarkable truth about modern America. “All-white neighbourhoods are effectively extinct” reported the Manhattan Institute, a New York think-tank, recently in “The End of the Segregated Century”. A neighbourhood like Washington, DC’s Navy Yard, ninety-five percent African-American in 2000 has dropped to less than a third. Chicago playwright Bruce Norris unpicks the surging tensions behind this economic emancipation and gentrification. His play, wholly undidactic, structurally original, moves from anguish to gales of laughter. With its sweep across time and its rich mix of characters it makes much new writing for theatre look pokey and parochial.

David Bond gives act two more movement than did Dominic Cooke. Carla Turner’s Lindsey has more intelligence and substance than in London, where the character leaned towards caricature. It makes sense, as she is given a line of emotional honesty towards the climax. Carla Turner also plays first act Betsy. It is tribute to the acting that the doubling passed me by.

Matthew Raymond’s Russ has brylcreemed hair and a parting you could roll a coin along. He starts as much more of a laid-back guy than in London. That too makes the murderous rage he harbours all the more effective. He gives to Dan in the second act, a small part, a lovely rolling gait. Laura Hobson’s Bev has an early flash of a smile and an arch of the eyebrows. This is a woman from another age, raised to charm and to please. It makes all the more telling her assumed power in trying to pass off on maid Francine a clunky kitchen item.

Eric Kofi Abrefa’s two characters span the changes of a generation. Albert in act one occupies an embarrassing social no-man’s land, pitched awkwardly between paid servant and helpful fellow citizen. His is a position similar to the one Todd Haynes wrote for the character Raymond in “Far from Heaven”. In act two Abrefa is Kevin who works downtown at Capital Equities. He is relaxed and amiable until a ferocious, and ferociously funny, last entry. He also gets a great line when he confesses to the newcomers of himself and his wife, Jessica Hayles’ strong Lena: “the two of us used to be crackheads.”

James Peake impressed at the theatre’s debut performance in 2011. His Jim is an eye-swivelling simperer, prone to sing the theme from “Rawhide”. Stella Martin has a snappy brightness as upwardly mobile lawyer Cathy. She is half intermediary in a property dispute, half intimate in trading her shallow travel experiences. Edward Killingback’s Carl is all loose-limbed, oily ingratiation. But when his appeals for a show of community solidarity are rebuffed he has a nasty glint in his eyes; the expression is rooted somewhere between forehead and upper nostril. His chin makes a small rotating motion before he can get out the incendiary word “colour.”

Matt Jones’ sound design has Doris Day as prelude to life in the 50’s. “God is in the House” plays as the interval lights dim. God may be in the house but there is a lot of money in the house too. That money can depend on who turns up as a neighbour. In a play about the quicksand of language and allegiance there is one irony in the writing. On both sides of the Atlantic, the Presbyterian or Anglican parson on stage is ripe for mockery, while representatives from other faiths are exempt.

Norris also enjoys an in-joke. The retailer who breaches the neighbourhood's professional walls is called Murray Gellman, in life the name of a Nobel prize-winning founder of the Santa Fe Institute.

A RWCMD cast has the disadvantage that the whole lot of them are twenty-one. They are playing middle-aged, parents and professionals. The best tribute to David Bond’s production is that once the cast of ten was on stage I ceased to even notice.


Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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