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Clybourne Park review at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester – ‘a tense, terrific staging’

Gloria Onitiri and Rebecca Manley in Clybourne Park at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester. Photo: Tristram Kenton Gloria Onitiri and Rebecca Manley in Clybourne Park at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park swept the boards to win the Olivier, Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Best play awards after its acclaimed UK premiere at the Royal Court in 2010. A West End transfer followed but it has taken nearly six more years for it to receive its regional premiere.

In a bold, brilliant piece of programming, Colchester’s Mercury Theatre have not just staged it under their Made in Colchester brand, but are also taking it beyond Colchester to six more theatres. How welcome it is to see such a touring play that provides real food for thought.

Clybourne Park is a provocative, combative and astonishingly layered play that uses the history of a house to chart the story of a changing community and to explore the factors that drive those changes. The house is located in what was a traditionally white neighbourhood of inner city Chicago when we first visit it in 1959, which through a series of transformations becomes predominantly black; the neighbourhood is in the process of gentrification when we re-visit it in the present day.

Norris dares to question how and why this happens – and also to offer some blistering observations and trenchant jokes about the elephant in the room that is racism. Each of the nine actors play two roles. In the first half Gloria Onitiri and Wole Sawyerr play a maid and her husband; in the second half they play a defiant black couple trying to hold onto the neighbourhood’s history during a community group meeting, as the house’s new buyers (Ben Deery and Rebecca Oldfield) seek approval for their re-building plans.

Director Daniel Buckroyd’s nuanced production boasts a fine ensemble cast who serve it well, and the production as a whole displays a revealing intelligence.

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A bracing play given a tense, terrific staging – touring theatre at its best