Clybourne Park

Theatre, West End
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

As Bruce Norris’s uber-provocative comedy continues its charmed ascent, it’s a pleasure to report that the Royal Court’s latest transfer retains both its teeth and popular appeal. It’s a dark-souled beast for sure, but nonetheless ferociously effective at mining laughs from racial tension and bourgeois hypocrisy.

Set in 1959, the first act of Dominic Cooke’s partially recast production is the more subtle. As grumpy husband Russ (Stuart McQuarrie) slobs out in his easy chair and brittle housewife Bev (Sophie Thompson) buzzes around nervously, this could be a scene from some cornball period sitcom. But Norris slowly poisons the apple-pie Americana of the titular Chicago suburb: Russ is a wreck, ruined by his son’s suicide and consumed by hatred for his horrific neighbours, who pitch up to tie themselves into self-justifying knots over why they object to Russ and Bev selling their house to a black family.

The second half lacks the first’s undercurrent of pathos, but boasts a pleasingly colossal gag rate. Skipping ahead to 2009, here we see white couple Steve and Lindsey and their awful estate agent Kathy (Thompson again, thoroughly deserving of her Best Actress Olivier nomination) blundering into the now-black neighbourhood. They’re full of PC formulae and right-on opinions, but utterly baffled that the community could be anything less than grateful for their arrival.

Norris’s script is a beautiful thing: frequently tasteless, occasionally poignant, but always savagely in tune with that strain of middle-class hypocrisy that leaves bad people convinced that they are fundamentally good. ‘Clybourne Park’s most provocative moment isn’t a joke, it’s a flashback to Russ and Bev’s son Kenneth preparing to take his own life with quiet dignity. He’s the only person on stage with the guts to admit he’s a monster – and to do something about it.

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