Some of Britain’s best comedy actors, familiar from The Office and Gavin and Stacey, feature in this new play (first seen in New York earlier this year) by American author Bruce Norris, which kicks off the autumn season at the Royal Court with a production directed by this venue’s artistic director. It’s the second play by Norris to be put on here, and like its predecessor, The Pain and the Itch in 2007, it dissects middle-class suburban life.
Martin Freeman (Steve), Sarah Goldberg (Lindsey), Steffan Rhodri (Dan) in Clybourne Park at the Royal Court, Jerwood Downstairs Photo: Johan Persson
Set in Chicago, the play is about race and property, and spans two eras, 1959 and 2009. In Act I, a white couple, Russ and Bev, are selling their house because their son, a Korean veteran, has committed suicide there. But other local residents, led by Karl, are none too pleased that the new owners are a black family.
In Act II, the incomers are white rather than black. Now, a white couple, Steve and his pregnant wife Lindsey, want to buy the property in order to replace it with a brash new modern house. But the local community, represented mainly by Lena and Kevin - a black couple - have certain concerns that this huge new house will destroy the local townscape.
Directed by Dominic Cooke, who thought so highly of The Pain and the Itch that he chose it as the first play he directed when he took over leadership of this venue, Clybourne Park is a hilarious and transgressive play that questions racial stereotypes and plays wicked games with political correctness. Norris’ chosen weapon is humour and he uses it to great effect, especially in the second half.
Cooke’s cast is excellent, with a fine mix between cartoonish exaggeration and believable reality. Martin Freeman is excellent as the ghastly Karl and the truth-telling Steve, Sophie Thompson excels as the grimace-queen Bev, while Lorna Brown and Lucian Msamati make the black couples into agents of quiet subversion in the first part and blatant anger in the second. Mention must also be made of Steffan Rhodri as Russ and Sarah Goldberg as Lindsey.