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A sharp satire on racial prejudice in America, Clybourne Park has its audiences squirming and laughing in equal measures, as its acutely drawn residents tiptoe and blunder through a minefield of race, prejudice, language and property.
The first act is set in 1959. A white couple have sold their Chicago home to escape the tragedy of their war-veteran son’s suicide. The buyers happen to be a black family, and the local residents association are virulent in their opposition. Alongside the harrowing spectacle of a couple destroyed by tragedy come the ghastly revelations of the neighbours’ racism, in full hearing of the black servants. In one toe-curling moment, Rotarian Carl (Stephen Campbell Moore) asks why you don’t see any black skiers; evidence, he believes, of differences that should continue through to their choice of housing.
In the second, we see the same Chicago house fought over by a young white couple in 2009. This time, the black Americans control the residents’ committee, and they want the cultural significance of the neighbourhood preserved. Or, do they just want keep white families out?
What might sound a little contrived actually packs more of a punch by showing us the same actors in different roles 50 years later. Norris’ dialogue is razor sharp, from the dated “yes’ms” of the 1950s to the politically correct rhetoric which ultimately collapses in on itself in the later act. “Half of my friends are black!” cries Lindsey (Sarah Goldberg), as the proud Lena (Lorna Brown, utterly convincing) provokes more and more outrage. The play peels away at liberal hypocrisy; eventually the ugly feelings and resentments explode in a show-down of shamefully racist jokes.
Add to this great script a phenomenal cast (Sophie Thompson shines as both put-upon 50s housewife Bev and myopic lawyer Kathy) who really draw you in with their slick, naturalistic performances, and you have a fantastically provocative show.