The Royal Court is rapidly becoming one of my favourite theatres. Situated just next to Sloane Square station, it is conveniently close to my Hyde Park Corner office. I have always been intrigued by its arty red neon sign but for some reason have never got around to seeing anything there. This all changed last Saturday when I was invited along to see the matinee performance of Clybourne Park.
The interior of the venue did not disappoint, a cosy but interesting bar/restaurant area and a fabulous little book shop are additions to the very comfortable and pretty theatre. And it seems this theatre has quite a following – I spotted a relaxed looking Emma Thompson amongst the crowd in the stalls.
The audience roared with laughter throughout Bruce Norris’ clever comedy. Sophie Thompson steals the show with her hilarious rendition of housewife Bev. She is the perfect 1950s stereotype, all flowers and baking, and I couldn’t help but warm to her smiley face and super sweet outlook on life. Bev and her husband, Russ (Steffan Rhodri) are moving neighbourhood after a harrowing family death leaves them yearning for a new start. Russ is rather less chirpy and sits melancholic, spooning Neapolitan ice-cream into his mouth, stopping occasionally to join his wife’s increasingly one-sided conversation. Their black maid, Francine (Lorna Brown) continues to pack up their possessions nonchalantly. The neighbours come round and reveal that a black family with be moving into the house, this is the first black family in the all-white Clybourne Park community. The neighbours are less than pleased and aggressively try to convince Bev and Russ to stay, but to no avail.
Initially it seems there is nothing more to this play than the domestic goings-on of everyday life. However as the story proceeds cracks appear and the neighbours seething racist opinions are revealed. The play presents a bizarre mix of jolly stereotypical 50s life and nasty racist jabs, exaggerated by the presence of Francine and her husband, who witness the argument. At times it is very uncomfortable to watch, but impossible too not to laugh.
After the interval, we are brought right forward to 2009 and the contemporary condition of the very same house, now part of an entirely different community. A white couple are wishing to buy the property, the discussion suggests that the area is now predominantly black. The same issues come to the surface but more overtly.
I enjoyed Clybourne Park. If anything the acting is so entertaining it draws one's attention away from the issues with which Norris is concerned.