Review: Fairview, Young Vic - what stands out a few weeks after seeing it
Fairview certainly isn't a forgettable play. It's been a few weeks since I saw it but I'm only now getting to my review and while some details have faded others remain crystal clear.
Before I launch into my thoughts, I'll caveat this by saying there may be spoilers in this review, don't read on if that annoys you; I did toy with the idea of writing a spoiler-free version but would rather give free rein to my thoughts, on this occasion.
The closest comparison I can make for Fairview is the Almeida's Mr Burns a few years ago which I didn't get on with brilliantly.
And while it has elements that are problematic, I found Fairview more engaging and powerful than Anne Washburn's play.
It is set in the home of a black family where they are preparing for a birthday meal with their grandmother.
The set felt a little too conventional for the Young Vic, compared to their usual fare and there was something a little soap-opera esque about the story.
But after a whole act of what looked like a standard family drama, setting up characters, tension and mystery, the second act takes on a wholly different tone.
You are not so much back in the 'Young Vic room' as floating above it looking down.
(Spoilers are a-coming. You've been warned.)
The second act is a repeat of the first but with a commentary given by four young white people as if they are watching it on TV.
You can't see them just hear their opinions and general chat, it shines a spotlight on the discrimination of the white gaze and makes for uncomfortable viewing.
It exposes the ugliness of the unconscious bias; they call each other out for their perceived prejudice while oblivious to their own stereotypical and cringe-along views.
However, the execution of the second act does have its problems, I found on stage action coupled with voice-over constantly fighting for my attention.
My thoughts drifted from what was being said to watching the brilliant silent performance on stage only to realise I'd switched off to the dialogue.
I was greedy for all of it, felt I wasn't getting enough of either and as a result, it felt long.
The final act moves the boundaries further into a sort of surreal nightmare/dark cartoonish landscape.
Our white commentators appear as characters (seen and mentioned) from the first scene or rather grotesquely caricatured versions of them - while the black family, aghast and dumbfounded, try to carry on with the dinner.
Drama on steroids
The 'new' characters pick up some of the plot threads from the first scene and twist them into something that is more akin to a cheap afternoon drama on steroids crossed with a cartoon.
And for a finale, white members of the audience are invited onto the stage with the cast except for Donna Banya, who plays the teenage daughter, who goes and sits among the remaining audience to deliver a final speech.
Sat perched on the front of the stage with almost every other spot to sit or stand taken up with fellow audience members wasn't where I expected to end up.
And that isn't the problem, I like it when theatre convention is subverted.
The problem was the stage lights made it difficult to see Banya and the uniqueness - and awkwardness - of the situation was ultimately a huge distraction from what she was actually saying.
I tried very hard to listen but there was too much running through my mind about where I was and who I was with and that overpowered everything else.
And here's the thing. I remember Fairview for the powerful way it exposed the prejudicial way white people view and present black people in popular culture, the bias, stereotypes and racism that reveals.
I remember it for being an uncomfortable watch at times and that's a good thing, as playwright Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti once said in a Guardian interview: “Theatre is not necessarily a cosy space, designed to make us feel good about ourselves”.
But I also remember its unique presentation as being at times frustrating, irritating and distracting, occasionally overshadowing the themes and nuances of Jackie Sibblies Drury's brilliant writing (and the performances).
It is 90 minutes without an interval and I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ .
Directed by Nadia Latif you can see it at the Young Vic until 23 January 2020.
You might also like to read:
Another powerful play about racism currently on stage: A Kind of People, Royal Court.
From the archive: My theatre wish-list for Santa from 2011, interesting to see what has changed and what hasn't.