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A Raisin in the Sun review at Lyric Hammersmith London

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When an audience spontaneously stands up and cheers at the end of a play, you know it must be something special.

Yet that was the case on the opening night of Lorraine Hansberry’s play, which began a tour at the Lyric. Considering that it was first produced in 1959, this was belated recognition of an undoubted classic, possibly the best play ever written by a black playwright, who died only five years after its first night.

What makes it a classic? Well, one reason is that it does not preach. Another is that there is no trace of little pleading or black rights. It is in fact a play about people who happen to be black but are striving to be upwardly mobile in the Chicago of the fifties.

The Younger family live in a South Side tenement, Walter and his wife Ruth, son Travis, mother Lena and sister Beneatha. Walter is a hotel doorman but determined to go into business. Beneatha is hopeful of eventually becoming a doctor. But Lena has been secretly saving and has collected enough to put down a deposit on a house for them all.

But it is in a white district, which sends a glib-tongued emissary who urges them not to move and is prepared to persuade them to stay put, backing it up with a financial inducement. At the same time Walter’s prospective partner has decamped with Walter’s own share of the start-up money.

So it looks as if they are all going to stay where they are, except that their grief is overcome by an outburst of pride and spirit which gives them the courage to move anyway.

But this is no gratuitous happy ending but a spontaneous outburst of spirit and refusal to admit defeat. Although the play lasts three hours, it never seems a moment too long in David Lan’s magnificent production and the way in which the author has done justice to all her characters.

Moreover, it is beautifully acted by Lennie James as the mercurial Walter, Noma Dumezweni as Ruth and, in particular, the American actress Novella Nelson as Lena, born into a family of sharecroppers and a fighter all her life. Here is one revival that has not dated one bit.

Production Information

Lyric, Hammersmith London, February 25 to March 26

Lorraine Hansberry
David Lan
Young Vic Theatre Company
Cast includes
Lennie James, Novella Nelson, Noma Dumezweni
Running time

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