It’s been over a decade since Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brothers Size was first staged at the Young Vic. It was a delight then and is a delight now. Since then he’s won an Oscar for Moonlight, and the return of Bijan Sheibani’s production allows for a renewed appreciation of the richness of McCraney’s writing and the elegant economy of his storytelling.
Ogun and Oshoosi Size are brothers. Ogun is the older of the two. He spends his days looking up at the underside of cars. He’s serious-minded and a hard worker – he’s had to be since the death of their mother means that he’s had to raise Oshoosi himself.
Oshoosi, meanwhile, is puppyish, playful, and never happier than when singing. But following a spell in prison he doesn’t sing as much as he used to – he doesn’t smile as much either.
Ogun does everything he can to help his brother get back on his feet. He tries to set him up in a job in the garage where he works. But the past is a difficult thing from which to escape. It follows Oshoosi in the form of his old Creole cellmate, Elegba, a man who is as seductive as he is disruptive.
Sheibani recently directed Barber Shop Chronicles for the National Theatre, Inua Ellams’ majestic exploration of black masculinity. In both that production and this one, he’s worked with movement director Aline David. Dance is central to the feel of both pieces and plays a key role in the brothers’ relationship with one another – the affection and frustration they feel towards one another, and the often complex intermingling of the two, is told through their bodies as much as through their words.
In other ways, this is a minimal production, staged in the round on naked stage without props. At the play’s start a circle is chalked on the floor and, within this circle, the actors scatter handfuls of red powder that slowly stains their clothes and skin crimson.
There’s a sibling electricity between Sope Dirisu’s oak-like Ogun and recent LAMDA graduate Jonathan Ajayi’s Oshoosi. Along with Anthony Welsh, returning to the role of Elegba, they clearly relish McCraney’s language, the Louisiana ripple and roll of his lines, and the way the characters announce their actions before they perform them. When Ogun wakes up, he says “Ogun wakes up,” then mimes waking up.
And there can be few more blissful things in theatre right now than the moment where the brothers team up to sing Otis Redding’s Try a Little Tenderness. The choice of song is a fitting one. As in Moonlight (based on his script In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue) tenderness flows through McCraney’s play. It’s a wonderfully warm piece of writing, full to the brim with love and the pain that comes with love, brotherly love and love between brothers.