Review: A Raisin in the Sun #Guardian

Lyn Gardner, The Guardian



Almost 60 years since its original staging, the first play by a black woman to be performed on Broadway, Lorraine Hansberry’s family drama still sings out loud, angry and true. It is a small, solid, well-made marvel, which paints a vivid portrait of black family life in Chicago in the late 1950s.

Strongly influenced by Séan O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock, it is itself the inspiration for some of the plays of August Wilson and Bruce Norris’s skewering of liberal hypocrisy and territorial racial tensions, Clybourne Park.

It is to Clybourne Park that the elderly Lena Younger (Angela Wynter) hopes to move with three generations of her family who live in a cramped, sunless Chicago apartment. She and daughter-in-law Ruth (Alisha Bailey) both do domestic work. Her smart daughter, Beneatha, is studying with hopes of being a doctor, and her dissatisfied son Walter (Ashley Zhangazha) is a chauffeur with dreams of running his own business. Money is tight: Ruth and Walter’s son sleeps on the living room sofa. But a $10,000 insurance payout to Lena could change all that. 

But whose dreams most deserve funding? And even if the dream appears within grasp, will it be crushed? Dawn Walton’s touring revival for Eclipse trusts the play, has intimacy on its side, and even if it sometimes lacks pace, rhythm and crispness, it matches the loving detail of Hansberry’s depiction of family life, and the interplay between the generations that reflects societal shifts, particularly the rise of the civil rights movement. 

Zhangazha’s Walter is never volcanic but suggests the restlessness of a man being gnawed from the inside out. In a tight ensemble, Susan Wokoma brings a refreshing comic edge to the sharp-brained, sharp-tongued Beneatha, a young woman looking to the future and determined to go places in search of her own identity.

At Sheffield Crucible Studio until 13 February, then touring until 26 March.

Review: A Raisin in the Sun #Guardian