Reviewing Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Fairview, currently running at the Young Vic, is tough.
Not because it’s hard to know what to think of the show – though it has split the critics – but because any kind of report of the things that stand out about the show would destroy a host of surprises that lie in store for an audience.
This is not a play with a twist at the end.
Fairview twists dramatically at the end of the first act (the first of either 3 or 4 acts, or maybe 2, depending how you look at it) and keeps on twisting.
So what can be said? The show opens on Tom Scutt’s impeccably detailed domestic set where parents Beverly (Nicola Hughes) and Dayton (Rhashan Stone) are preparing for Grandma’s birthday party.
Brother Jimbo (David Dawson) calls to say he’s going to be late, even though Beverly told him to plan ahead.
Sister Jasmine (Naana Agyei-Ampadu) turns up to the dismay of Dayton, full of self-aggrandising condescension.
Daughter Keisha (Donna Banya) appears and announces that her ‘friend’ is coming by, to the consternation of her mother. So far, so conventional.
A family reunion with tensions bubbling under the surface.
Maybe something is slightly off in the way the actors use the fourth wall – are they looking in a mirror or in some way looking out at us?
Maybe there’s something reminiscent of a TV sound stage with a live audience in the set up.
The first act certainly has the flavour of a TV sitcom. And then it all changes.
Director Nadia Latif elicits strong, playful performances from all involved, particularly Stone, channelling the spirit of everything from The Cosby Show to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Esther Smith as grandma (sort of), and there’s a stand-out denouement led by the astonishingly charismatic and unexpectedly commanding Banya.
The play’s manipulation of form is arguably more sophisticated than the socio-political argument being made, about the loaded history of looking and being looked at across ethnic divides, but I suspect that in the US the argument would be received more strongly.
There is no doubt, however, that whether it’s the form or the content that strikes you the most, the production can’t fail to have a strong impact.
The show sold out its initial run at the Young Vic and subsequently extended. At the time of writing there are a handful of tickets left.
If you can get your hands on one it’s well worth it – this show is guaranteed to leave you thinking long after the curtain does, or doesn’t, come down.
Fairview plays at the Young Vic until 23 January