Tag Archives: Nadia Latif

"Fairview" at the Young Vic

This Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Jackie Sibblies Drury is a challenging piece that explores racism in such a bold manner that it makes for uncomfortable viewing. There’s no doubt that Fairview is startling theatre – its potency and originality are embedded in its very structure. Beware plot spoilers as the action, sturdily directed by Nadia Latif, is deliberately – and brilliantly – disorientating. It’s impossible to forget that its award is American: many of the references are culturally specific and the final fourth-wall-breaking scene may have a different response in the UK. But, sure to prompt plenty of discussion, it will be fascinating to see if a work about cultural divisions can cross the Atlantic divide.

The cast of "Fairview" at the Young Vic
Naana Agyei-Ampadu, Nicola Hughes and Rhashan Stone

First, we see an African American family dinner, played as a light sit-com that becomes surprisingly tiresome. The scene is then repeated as mime while we hear another set of actors debate race. The later dialogue proves truly excruciating – increasingly so as it becomes clear that they are talking about what we are watching.

Using those theories about the gaze so admired by cultural studies (and turning the tables on an audience) certainly makes the play powerful. The toe-curling talk presumably plays at being even-handed – regardless of the politics of those overheard, they are all pretty awful. So, you might think Drury is a little tough on a well-off liberal? Or that the treatment of an ignorant French speaker is a little silly? Maybe you’ll get nervous about the cultural appropriation of a third talker who later appears as a drag queen? And I’d rather just skip the fourth ‘shock-jock’ style interlocutor. The dialogue, and its interaction with what we see on stage, is often funny but also infuriating.

We have to get back to that drag queen. The voices heard – who turn out to be Caucasian performers – come to the stage as family members. The resulting action is frantic and a sense of chaos not quite controlled by Latif. Fairview is obsessed by performance – from films and dancing to how we behave in front of others – and generates bold questions, notably about the fluidity of identity, that Drury is brave to raise. Writing of such intelligence creates a daunting number of layers to negotiate.

The only caveat is that the play deconstructs so much that the result is bewildering. And a heartfelt finale, led by Donna Banya, where members of the audience identifying as white are asked to go on stage, makes what can come next a daunting question. It becomes hard to know what to take away from Fairview – aside from being hugely impressed. The production is undoubtedly superb: Naana Agyei-Ampadu, Nicola Hughes and Rhashan Stone give brilliant performances. And Fairview is imminently theatrical; it engages with an audience as only live theatre can. I couldn’t argue with the pessimism Drury highlights, but it results in a cold response to the work. With a suspicion that it is not the desired intention, respect (and a touch of confusion) is the best I can muster.

Until 23 January 2020


Photos by Marc Brenner

“Even stillness breathes softly against a brick wall” at the Soho Theatre

Unlike its title, Brad Birch’s new play, Even stillness breathes softly against a brick wall, which opened at the Soho Theatre last night, is a short, terse work. In a spirit of brevity, suffice to say – this is strong writing with much to offer.

A couple, “Him” (Joe Dempsie) and “Her”, (Lara Rossi) live recognisably modern lives – all about technology (Simon Slater’s accompanying soundscape is effectively annoying) and takeaways. There’s nothing new here and, although Birch writes about it well, it goes on a little too long.

The scenario develops with the couple rejecting consumerism and in so doing effectively turning away from the whole contemporary world. It’s a radical fantasy: just saying no. A dream, or nightmare, sure to divide an audience and a bold place for a dramatist to position himself.

It will either disappoint or reassure to find that this breakaway ends up being depicted as a breakdown: the squeezed middle turned screaming and mad. The pressure the successful young couple are under doesn’t move us enough, and reports of war on the news that obsess ‘Him’ are an opaque parallel.

But the play reads very well indeed. Birch started his work by writing a poem, and it shows; the text is layered and the language ripe. Taken off the page with great respect by director Nadia Latif, it’s staged skilfully in a carefully constructed set by Lorna Ritchie that the couple make a right mess off – I pity their landlord.

This is one of those works that makes an effective showcase for acting talent: demanding, intense and requiring intelligent performers. Making an impressive stage debut, Joe Dempsie seems very much at home, a great presence, appealing and charismatic with a natural ability to bring out comic touches.

As his companion, Lara Rossi’s experience, including her excellent performance in Philip Ridley’s play Tender Napalm, stands her in good stead. Rossi suppresses her character’s energy remarkably and deals with the sexually explicit content with the erotic nuance required. Like Dempsie, she establishes a great connection with the audience.

It’s when presenting a couple in love that Even stillness breathes softly against a brick wall is at its most appealing. Birch, aided by the fine performances, writes an engrossing internal dialogue for each character, combined with their conversations and occasional comments to the audience. It’s an exacting evening, but one with plenty of rewards.

Until 14 June 2013


Photo by Richard Davenport

Written 31 May 2013 for The London Magazine