BWW review: A RAISIN IN THE SUN, Crucible Studio, Sheffield, Feb 1 2016
A Raisin in the Sun is the second collaboration between Sheffield Theatres and Eclipse Company Theatre, following One Monkey Don't Stop No Show in 2011. Dawn Walton directs this adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 classic play, which centres around three generations of the Younger family, who are seeking to escape poverty and prejudice in mid-20th-century America.
It's hard to believe that this play is almost 60 years old, so fresh is the dialogue and so sharp the social commentary. It is, in turns, funny, sad, hopeless and hopeful - and its great strength is the way that it never settles into being either truly utopian or dystopian, but recognises the complexities of life for black families in the USA at that point in time. It acts as a reminder that the American dream is an incredibly pervasive ideal, yet one fraught with the difficulties of poverty and prejudice.
The Younger family are headed by matriarch Lena (Angela Wynter), due to come into money paid out as insurance following the death of her husband. She lives in a small apartment in Chicago with her son Walter (Ashley Zhangazha), daughter-in-law Ruth (Alicia Bailey), grandson Travis (a role shared by child actors Adryan Dorsett Pitt, Solomon Gordon and Kiano Samuels) and her daughter Beneatha (Susan Wakoma). All of them have dreams of escaping their present situation, although what that looks like is different for each character: Walter wants to run his own business; Ruth longs for a larger house with room for Travis and any future children she might have; Beneatha wants to become a doctor; Lena longs for her own garden. The play highlights the many obstacles in the way of the characters fulfilling their desires, yet it never sinks into despair in acknowledging these.
Big themes are tackled in the production - everything from colonialism to abortion - yet with a deftness in script and performance that means the play never becomes too preachy. Humour, hope and optimism infuse the piece as much as anger, sorrow and disappointment. The cast are excellent, including the three actors in supporting roles (Aron Julius, Everal A Walsh, Mike Burnside) The set (designed by Amanda Stoodley) is a believable replica of the family flat, where the kitchen, dining room, living room and Travis's bedroom are all the same room - invoking a sense of both claustrophobia and intimacy.
Sadly, playwright Lorraine Hansberry died of cancer when she was just 34; however, her work stands strong today as an example of a prodigious talent whose social commentary was, and remains, incredibly sharp.
A Raisin in the Sun is at the Crucible Studio, Sheffield, until 13 Feb.