In our millennia of commingling on this earth, you would think human beings would have learned a little about tolerance, acceptance, honesty, equality, fairness.
You’d think by now we wouldn’t still be talking about race as if the colour of skin even mattered.
Last night’s play at Eden Court showed that we haven’t come far at all.
I suppose we all know that truth, and in my own case, I’d rather not be reminded of it, so I wasn’t sure what emotions were ahead of me in the touring production of Clybourne Park, by Bruce Norris.
It’s 1959 and President Eisenhower is in the White House.
Bev and Russ are moving after the tragic death of their son, and they have inadvertently sold their house to the neighbourhood’s first black family.
Fifty years later, in 2009, with President Obama just having taken office, a young white couple buy the same house in what is now a predominantly black neighbourhood.
In both instances, racial tensions escalate, other prejudices are thrown in, and the play asks the question: have our attitudes to race really changed?
We know the depressing answer, but the cleverly crafted, multi-layered, trenchant, witty script and the conviction of the eight-strong cast made for a completely compelling experience, even though the messages were deep and troubling.
It was one of those shows where the audience locks in to the performance with an almost tangible intensity, and absolutely gets the razor-sharp satire.
True to life, the issues only reveal themselves little by little. In 1959, Bev has a lovely relationship with her black housekeeper Francine, but we’re not sure the reverse is true.
First clue, quite early on- Bev, clearing out for the move, wants rid of her chafing dish. She barely uses the thing. It’s become surplus. But it’s a lovely shiny thing! Surely Francine would like it, she must like it! Because (unspoken) Francine can’t possibly have anything as nice as that in her own house and would be so grateful, plus it would relieve Bev of a problem…but it transpires to Bev’s amazement that Francine doesn’t actually want it.
There are misconnects and disconnects like that throughout the play, many borne of ignorance and stupidity, some borne of malice and guile.
Francine’s husband Albert arrives to pick her up- in a car. What! Visiting friend Reverend Jim (white) rushes over to the window in disbelief to check it out.
But it’s laugh out loud funny at times, even the section in 2009 where the neighbours trade racist jokes too obscene to be mentioned here, and turn them into withering insults.
Rapture Theatre’s touring production features Robin Kingsland (Rapture’s The Browning Version and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), popular Scottish performer Jackie Morrison, leading Royal Shakespeare Company actress Frances McNamee, Adelaide Obeng (Not Bound Within for The Albany), Benjamin Stratton (The 39 Steps), Jack Lord (War Horse for the National Theatre), Steven Scott Fitzgerald (The Browning Version) and Vinta Morgan (The Merchant of Venice for Almedia Theatre).
It’s directed by Michael Emans, who says: “There’s not a single area of discrimination or prejudice it doesn’t touch upon, racism, sexism, gender, disability, class… I’m certain it will be impossible for anyone to leave the theatre untouched by this play’s complex characters.”
It’s a shame this brilliant production didn’t come to the Highlands for more than one night, but if you are in Edinburgh from 3-5 October it’s on at the Traverse, before going to Corran Halls, Oban on October 7, Byre Theatre, St Andrews on October 10 and 11, and finishing at the Palace Theatre Kilmarnock on October 12.