Posts Tagged ‘Sharlene Whyte’

Another evening which starts in awe of the work of theatre designers, this time the poolside of Matt Saunders’ LA modernist house, which seems to take its inspiration from those 1960’s David Hockney paintings like A Bigger Splash, and splashes were provided to the front rows as characters used the onstage pool!

Playwright Jeremy O . Harris made a very big splash with the Broadway transfer of The Slave Play, which we’ve yet to see here. This was his first play, written a couple of years before, but revised a year after his big hit. His work reminds me of that of fellow American playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (we’ve seen Appropriate, An Octoroon and Gloria here) with a sprinkling of Angels in America’s Tony Kushner, because of the way they play with form and often abandon realism.

It’s another play seemingly about art, following hot on the heals of The Collaboration at the Young Vic, about two artists and unlikely bedfellows Andy Warhol & Jean-Michel Basquiat. In this case it’s Franklin, a young American artist, and Andre, an older European collector, who become actual bedfellows after they meet as Franklin is about to get his first show. Basquiat actually features as he’s a big part of Andre’s collection.

As we meet them, their relationship is new. Franklin is in awe of, but uncomfortable about, Andre’s collection, but he is clearly loving the attention and the lifestyle. His friends Max and Bellamy get to visit and enjoy Andre’s hospitality and his dealer / gallerist comes to plan the exhibition. It’s when his religious mother comes that a power battle for the soul of Franklin begins between her and Andre. Zora is a single mother and Franklin her only child. Sugar daddy vs mother, during the wedding between Andre and Franklin. Franklin’s father looms large, but he isn’t an onstage character.

Danya Taymor’s production is hugely audacious. In addition to the extraordinary design, there is a gospel choir (well, a trio), who act as a Greek chorus. Others occasionally bring out a microphone and sing. There are moments of stylised movement. Mobiles ringing and voicemail messages are significant. Sound and lighting make their atmospheric contributions too. The pool, which people emerge from, enter and frolic in, and which acquires it’s own inhabitant in the second half, is very much the focal point of the play,

The performances are uniformly excellent. Ioanna Kimbrook is hilarious as the designer obsessed, instagram fixated friend who gets her own sugar daddy. It’s great to see John McCrea back on stage after his lead in Everyone’s Talking About Jamie and he’s superb as other friend Max, who’s feelings for Franklin are a combination of love, jealousy, resentfulness and contempt. There’s a lovely cameo from Jenny Rainsford as the archetypal pretentious art dealer, who’s more about price & value that aesthetics. Sharlene Whyte is simply terrific as Franklin’s mom Zora, a larger than life god fearing matriarch. Danish actor Claes Bang oozes authenticity as Andre, as obsessed with Franklin as he is his art. Then there’s Tarique Jarrett, a captivating performance with a childlike quality that conveys perfectly what Franklin is experiencing, at such a pace.

I think I was more enamoured with the production and performances than the play, but you have to remember it was written by someone in his mid twenties about to enter drama school. On those terms, it showcases an extraordinarily promising playwright and I for one can’t wait to see where he goes next, though we’ll hopefully get to see The Slave Play first.

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