With Debbie Allen's stirring production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof wowing London audiences with an all black cast, what better time to reaquaint ourselves with Lorraine Hansberry's classic A Raisin In The Sun - the first play directed by a black woman to play on Broadway. Like the West End Cat, this fantastic production truly delivers.
Set in Chicago in 1959, this slow burning tale follows the lives of the Younger family, in their cramped and tired old rented home. Every day is a struggle; from the sprint to the shared bathroom, to their gallant efforts to fill the pantry. There is never enough money to go round.
Matriarch, Lena (Starletta DuPois) lives for her late husband's name and strives to do well by the family. Waiting for the $10,000 insurance cheque, the other members are keen to see how the money will be spent. Her daughter-in-law Ruth (Jenny Jules) longs to live in a better place and like Lena is trapped in the world of domestic service. Walter Lee Younger (Ray Fearon) is the angry young man who is desperate to make something of himself. His rants are often ignored, yet he speaks so much sense - linking the racial divide to quashed dreams.
Walter's bookish sister Beneatha (Tracey Ifeachor) wants to be a doctor but her ideals often clash with her aspirations, as she feels culturally that she is often betraying herself. Young Travis (played by Lyndon Rhoden on the night I attended) is happy-go-lucky but fully aware that his daddy drinks too much.
Ellen Cairns' evocative set captures the period detail incredibly well and also the claustophobia. Lena's plant sits in the kitchen window, representing the stunted social growth that the family suffer. Buffong keeps the play moving at just the right pace. This means that the actors are allowed to explore their characters, rather than simply play them.
Fearon is tremendous, as he changes from ranting drunk to broken man before your very eyes, moving you to tears in the process. Jules is a chameleon as she too is downtrodden yet filled with the promise of a better world and when she smiles, it really lights up the Exchange. Ifeachor and Rhoden are also excellent as the next generation who witness so much pain.
Damola Adelaja is also very effective as Joseph, the character who opens Beneatha's eyes to a world beyond their cockroach ridden home. It is DuPois though, who keeps you rivetted throughout, as she is majestic as the Younger backbone. This gifted actress sparkles, showing the audience that beneath the heartache, there is hope.
Buffong's A Raisin In The Sun is perfectly rendered and it becomes as iconic as Arthur Miller's Death Of A Salesman and All My Sons in his hands. You feel like you are eavesdropping on the family, as their lives ebb away, but he fills the production with so much love and loyalty that you will leave the theatre feeling exhausted, yet exhilarated.
Powerful and poignant, this is the year's first must-see piece of theatre.