A lot has happened in the ten years since Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play The Brothers Size first played at the Young Vic. On a personal level, the playwright has become a renowned storyteller, a highlight being his unpublished autobiographical play being adapted into the (eventual) Oscar-winning play Moonlight. But revisiting this play - a bracing portrait of masculinity, family and being Black in America – serves as an opportunity to reflect on how, if at all, society has moved on.
The younger of the brothers Size, Oshoosi (Jonathan Ajayi) is en ex-con recently released from prison and living with his older brother, Ogun (Sope Dirisu). The story is a whirlwind from the moment we encounter Elegba (Anthony Welsh), Oshoosi’s prison-mate. The pair spent their time inside together forming a brotherly bond, a bond for Oshoosi to fill the gap missing his real brother has left.
On the outside, Elegba is infatuated with Oshoosi, and provides a car for them to get around and spend time together. One evening, following an intimate encounter between the pair, and a run-in with the law, Oshoosi finds himself returning home to Ogun. After a hilarious yet touching song and dance between the siblings, Ogun packs his younger brother’s bags and sends him on his way to flee the country.
A standout feature of the play is that the stage directions are written into the text for the characters to speak; “Sharp breath out”, for example. In the text, it seems almost jarring, but it jams this already fast-paced play with almost constant dialogue, always marching on. The story matches the pacing, always moving, but it also allows certain fleeting moments to open the piece up, and stop you in your tracks.
It also provides moments where the actors have to snap out of a highly-emotional performance, which can be quite something to marvel at. Dirisu is authoritative as the towering Ogun, making the moments he opens up to his younger brother all the more satisfying. Ajayi is almost infantile as the peppy Oshoosi, whereas Welsh plays the crafty Elegba with an aura of sleaze.
The play highlights the group’s relationship with the law, and how they are victims of the broken system. Since it premiered in 2007, the US welcomed and said goodbye to Obama, #BlackLivesMatter, the shooting of Michael Brown - but, other than the playwright’s emerging success, has much changed? I’ll openly admit I don’t really have the experience to pass comment, but for those able to revisit this play again, it will stand as a moment of reflection.