Writer: Lorraine Hansberry
Director: Dawn Walton
Reviewer: Paul Couch
Essentially, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin In The Sun is a magnificent soap opera in the best tradition of the genre, no more, no less. That’s not to detract from its quality in any way but anyone hoping for some cerebral, social metaphors is likely to be disappointed. It’s a neat, linear story about poor folk that you could take your granny to with no profanity stronger than a “Christ!” to offend the sensibilities.
The Youngers are an African-American family who live in a tiny, cockroach-infested apartment in the south side of Chicago. When matriarch Lena receives a $10,000 insurance payout on the death of her husband, son Walter has his eye on it so that he can invest with his dodgy friends, the unseen Willy and Bobo (Everal A Walsh), in a liquor store business. But Lena’s got religion and doesn’t approve.
She decides to put down a down-payment on a house in an affluent white neighbourhood, Clybourne Park, but the residents are not so keen to make “those people” a part of the community.
Of course, written almost 50 years before, A Raisin In The Sun acts as a prequel to Bruce Norris’ 2010 work, Clybourne Park and one cannot but wonder what Hansberry – who died in 1965 – would have made of the fact that Norris carried on her story.
Amanda Stoodley’s dreary and utilitarian set is a perfect crucible in which to explore the tensions and the loves that snare and bind the Younger family. A couple of minor design errors jar, but not for long.
All performances are exceptional, particularly that of Alisha Bailey as Ruth and Ashley Zhangazha as the under-achieving Walter. Angela Wynter (Lena) and Susan Wokoma (Beneatha) play beautifully together, although diction occasionally suffers in more heated moments. Travis, the 10-year-old son of Ruth and Walter, is played by three young actors, on this occasion Adryan Dorset Pitt, who gives a competent performance well beyond his years and experience.
Dawn Walton manages her cast well and the pace fairly rolls along, pulling on the audience’s strings with a mixture of nicely timed humour and pathos.
Hansberry’s script isn’t anything to take the breath away in 2016 but, in 1959, at the height of the civil rights movement, it would have shocked that this down-at-heel black family had aspirations to improve themselves among the middle-class white folks. Clybourne Park takes their story further and is itself currently touring.
A Raisin In The Sun may not break much new ground but is a perfectly competent, important and engaging snapshot of a family often at war with itself and the prejudices of others.
Runs until 20 February 2016 then touring until 26 March 2016 | Image: Johan Persson
For further information: EclipseTheatre.org.uk