A spiritual successor to A Raisin in the Sun, it starts in 1959 with Beneatha (Cherrelle Skeete), the protagonist in Lorraine Hansberry’s landmark play, arriving in Lagos from Chicago with her new budding politician husband Joseph (Zackary Momoh). Joseph’s heart is cleft in twain by corruption. Beneatha is pregnant but doesn’t want to distract her husband. Set in the build up to Nigeria's proclamation of independence, the future of their family is symbolically tied with the future of Nigeria.
Jumoké Fashola and Cherrelle Skeete in Beneatha’s Place at Young Vic. Photo: Johan Persson
There is a lot going on outside the house walls, but inside things remain oddly static. A conveyer belt of characters conveniently swan in and out to dump exposition like the plastic boxes of Beneatha’s belongings from America. Neither go unpacked; the writing doesn’t give itself time to breathe, too busy turning the cogs and mechanics to produce the next political beat. Despite excellent performances across the board, a lack of stagecraft exacerbates the low voltage with long exchanges unaccentuated by movement.
But buckle up because the fireworks go off all at once in the second act. Set in the present-day, Beneatha, now a Dean of an American university, conveniently returns to her house to host a debate with her fellow academic staff as to whether the faculty should replace “African American studies” with “Critical Whiteness Studies.” The tone shifts so fast it’ll give you whiplash: if it weren’t for the same setting, a now derelict house, it would feel almost entirely disconnected.
Beneatha’s interlocuters are there for laughs. Almost parodical caricatures of wasp academics who, deaf to their own irony, say things like “I don’t want to sound like a Karen.” How someone could become a professor of African American studies whilst patronisingly boasting about how they are on “black Twitter” does not remain a mystery for long: they are dramatic straw men, set up so that Kwei-Armah can score an easy win against their cloying naval gazing.
It may be cathartic to watch the play reverse up an awkward cul-de-sac of racial politics, but the writer-director unwittingly robs his own play of dramatic weight. Everyone but Beneatha is a cardboard moron. Complex ideas about decolonising academia and the responsibility to teach black history have an undeniable magnetism as soap-box moments, but not as theatre. Beneatha’s Place wears its heart on its sleeve, but it has no pulse.
|What||Beneatha’s Place, Young Vic Theatre review|
|Where||The Young Vic, 66 The Cut, Waterloo, London, SE1 8LZ | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
27 Jun 23 – 05 Aug 23, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Website||Click here to book|