BWW Review: FAIRVIEW, Young Vic
This is no ordinary play. Though it begins in a fairly conventional manner, setting up for a hearty family drama, there are little things to pick up on which tell you that something's not quite right - it's unsettling and you can't quite put your finger on it, but you know that the play has something up its sleeve. Playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury says in the programme, "Oh, to not spoil Fairview I can basically tell you nothing!" - that makes it a challenge to review, but having now witnessed it I have to endorse her statement. You must step into the unknown with this one.
It constantly shifts its tone from one moment to the next, messing with your expectations and making you question your response to earlier scenes, perhaps allowing you to see them in a different way. Act two is particularly good at this; there are some clever comedic moments that stem from Nadia Latif's ingenious direction, but they begin to be outweighed by comments that are made all the more horrifying when you acknowledge how authentic they are.
The audience reaction from this point on really says it all: cries of disbelief, audible shock, and wry laughter tell you everything you need to know.
Fairview is about the effect of people's perceptions; it shows how ingrained some ideas are, and the lack of perspective that you can have if you don't have the benefit of experiencing certain privileges. Even if you see yourself as being on someone's side, you don't necessarily understand things fully - and may unintentionally be perpetuating an attitude that's quite damaging. It's a good reminder that, whilst an action may seem harmless to you, you can't just dismiss how it makes other people feel.
Ultimately what Fairview cries out for is the opportunity for people to tell their own stories, without judgement or particular expectations. It follows on from the outcry that surrounded the film Green Book - for some it was another example of a 'white saviour' story, belittling the purpose of some characters and misrepresenting vital actions from history.
A thought-provoking piece like this could not be more vital at this moment in time, and I can't think of anywhere better to open the discussion than at the Young Vic. This production is really in tune with the idea of toying with the audience and leading us up the garden path; Tom Scutt's design does an excellent job here, lulling us in with a picture-perfect house set that feels increasingly at odds with what's going on around it. Jessica Hung Han Yun's lighting design also works wonders, whether it's homing in on Keisha or adding to the feeling of disorientation that the play creates.
The whole company is totally committed to the production, throwing themselves in for maximum effect. A special mention should go to Nicola Hughes, Rhashan Stone, Naana Agyei-Ampadu and Donna Banya for their physical work in act two - their precision and timing creates something quite extraordinary. Banya's portrayal of Keisha's discomfort and her earnest delivery of the final speech will live long in the minds of everyone who witnesses it. This play is something that you must experience for yourself.
Picture credit: Marc Brenner