Review - Fairview at the Young Vic

Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton

Fairview, which has arrived at London's Young Vic with the ringing endorsement of having won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for drama after premiering at Off-Broadway's Soho Rep in 2018, comes freighted with a lot of expectation.

That's hardly unusual. But this play is anything but usual, and two immediate challenges present themselves: one is to avoid the hype, the second (related to the first) is to ensure that its surprises are maintained. Just as Harry Potter and the Cursed Child came with a plea to audiences to #KeepTheSecrets, this is a play you will want to engage with on its own fresh, strange and playful terms. But there's a third provocation: what are your own terms - and most fundamentally your race - as you watch it?

In an intricate puzzle and game that playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury plays with her audience, our response to the play will inevitably be individually calibrated from who we are.  It's impossible to write about without declaring your own position - in my case, a white, privileged, middle-aged gay male. But it's never quite as simple as that, is it? I was born and brought up in apartheid-era South Africa, so I've always been aware of racial inequality; even if, as a child, I wasn't in a position to challenge it directly myself. You're invited to give yourself a ringside seat to the prism through which you watch this family - and to question every assumption you're making about them, and yourself, as you do so.

Here it's an African-American family that are under the spotlight, where the Beverly (Nicola Hughes) is preparing a big birthday celebration for her mother, and her preparations are getting fractious, as her husband Dayton (Rhashan Stone) may have forgotten to pick up the root vegetables she specifically requested, sister Jasmine (Naana Agyei-Ampadu) is being typically antagonistic, and daughter Keisha (Donna Banya) is campaigning for a gap year before going to University.

So far, so conventional, in what might be the basis for a TV sitcom. But as this exact scene is replayed, this time to the accompaniment of disembodied white voices on the radio discussing what race they would choose to be if such a choice was possible, the play starts taking stranger turns, until the actual dinner party itself becomes positively surreal.

Some of this started trying my patience, as the show lost its hook in reality. But there are darker provocations to come that critics have been specifically requested not to reveal, so I won't.

Director Nadia Latif maintains careful control over this questioning piece that is frustrating and challenging by turns.

Fairview is at the Young Vic Theatre until 18th January 2020.

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