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The Theatreguide.London Review

Fairview
Young Vic Theatre   Winter 2019-2020Royal Court Theatre     Spring 2019

Jackie Sibblies Drury's Pulitzer Prize play deals with a serious subject – perhaps the most serious subject in the American experience – with striking originality of both thought and theatrical presentation.

If it ultimately disappoints it is because, having explored the issue in such fresh ways, it settles for a glib and unoriginal conclusion.

Fairview is built on a number of theatrical surprises and twists that make it difficult to describe without saying too much. We meet what is apparently an upscale African-American family preparing for a birthday dinner.

Only gradually in the opening scene might we catch a sense of trying too hard, of working at manners and modes that are not instinctive, of – dare I say it? - black people trying to act white.

Then, in a theatrical coup that I won't describe, our attention shifts to some white people imagining admiringly what it would be like to be black.

There are hints of John Guare's Six Degrees Of Separation here, in the image of people working hard to achieve something that probably isn't worth the achieving – or, more ironically, of two groups each yearning for precisely what the other is trying to escape.

But the play's real insight is even more complex and subtly ironic. The imitation white-middle-class black family is following a model that doesn't actually exist, but is their imaginary image of white America, just as the whites are drawn to a soulful hip-hop blackness that is entirely their invention.

How can the races interact, asks the play, if they persist in imposing imaginary identities on each other that make them unable to see the reality?

So much so good, and I have to repeat that I have left out some of the ideas and staging effects that contribute to the play's power.

Playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury, director Nadia Latif and a wholly admirable cast guide us through both the disorientations and the reorganisations of our thinking so we experience the real excitement of learning something and looking at it in fresh ways.

And then – and again here I have to be vague – the playwright pulls out another twist on our perceptions, but one that doesn't quite work.

In effect we are brought all this way, through all this enlightenment, to be told it won't do us any good and we shouldn't bother trying to do anything with it. It's an ending that's too self-congratulatorily clever, too glib, and too dark and dismissive to be satisfying.

It is not just that the ending is downbeat – a playwright has every right to say there is no hope – but that it is so much less original, perception-altering and involving than the rest of the play.

And so you may walk away from Fairview with as much disappointment at an opportunity missed as excitement at what went on before.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Fairview - Young Vic Theatre 2019