A thought-provoking and ultimately harrowing glimpse into the problems faced by African-Americans in the 1950s, excellently portrayed by the Eclipse Theatre Company.
‘What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?’ Langston Hughes, ‘Harlem’
Although perhaps not as well known as Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller, Lorraine Hansberry should be considered a true dramatic great for A Raisin in the Sun, a thought-provoking insight into middle-class black family life in 1950s Chicago Southside. Hansberry’s skilful blending of plot lines, which focus on the passage to manhood, the burden of family, capitalism and finance, and the concept of identity and homeland, come together to form an excellent dramatic piece.
The Eclipse Theatre Company, currently performing the play at the Nuffield Theatre, certainly do it the justice it deserves. The plots explores the respective dreams of Walter Lee Younger, his sister Beneatha and his wife Ruth, in regards to an insurance check that Walter’s mother is receiving for the passing of her husband. Whereas Walter and Beneatha both want to chase personal dreams of entrepreneurial success and self-actualisation, Ruth is more focused on escaping to a brighter future. At the same time, Watler’s mother, Lena, worries for the future of her grandchild Travis, in the face of heightened racial prejudice towards black communities. Although the play is only set over one week, the tales of generations are examined and told, ending in a new, but uncertain future.
Through their exploration of the differing plot-lines, the relatively small, but talented cast perfectly capture each individual role; particular commendations must go Alisha Bailey (Ruth Younger) and Ashley Zhangza (Walter Lee Younger), whose combined understanding of both one-another and the complex marriage of their characters, results in them being able to lurch from evident confusion, to genuine dislike and adoration at varying points in the play, always to utterly believable effect. Although the play has only one setting, clever manipulation of dimming lights to represent the passing of night-time and a skilful manoeuvring of on-set props means that you always feels the evidence of a change, even though a chair may have simply gone off-stage.
The most eye-catching element of staging is the positioning of the deceased Walter Lee Snr., whose presence seems to pervade all the action in the play and indirectly forms a key driving point for the overall plot. I’d also like to pay compliments to Dawn Walton’s creative genius in terms of her dual casting of the roles of Joseph Asagai and George Murchison, two characters who are very different in nature and manner, but who are both equally driven towards success. Aron Julius, the actor in question, is brilliant at switching between these two opposite personalities, one focused towards financial security and the other towards social independence and identity, and all it takes is a quick costume change.
A Raisin in the Sun is by no means a happy play, and deals with the difficult topic of the apartheid and racism that plagued America less than sixty years ago. Even in modern Britain, minorities still face a battle to be heard, and in this case minorities is not only a racial term, but also a social term, referring to people of different income levels and backgrounds. This is a play that is as relevant now as it was when first produced on Broadway in 1959 and I for one hope it receives the publicity and recognition it so richly deserves from our modern audiences.
A Raisin in the Sun is at the Nuffield Theatre from 23rd Feb – 27th Feb.