Choir Boy, a new play set in an all boys, all black, American prep school scores a gospel refrain of the politics of minority and masculinity.
Directed by Royal Court artistic director Dominic Cooke, it runs until 6 October.
The most astonishing thing about Tarell Alvin McCraney's new play Choir Boy…is the casting…Director Dominic Cooke has struck more gold for England at the end of our Olympic summer…the glue is the music, ranging from school hymns and anthems to a more profound investigation of spirituals and gospel. It's all thrillingly well sung, fuelled by the boys' own internal antagonisms and the goading of a semi-retired old white teacher (beautifully played by David Burke) …At first the play feels under-populated on Ultz's wrap-around design of panelled walls, locker room tiles and cupboards, school crests and Pharus's bedroom. But the skilful, muscular writing…expands along with the performances, and the actors hop among the audience to pick up a bass line or rap out a riposte.
…The show is stretched, at two hours no interval, and McCraney starts on more ideas than he resolves…But there is some acute and amusing stuff in here…The grown-ups - Burke, and Gary McDonald as the smiling, authoritative Headmaster - are terrific. As are the boys, whether it’s Eric Kofi Abrefa giving a measured swagger to Bobby or Khali Best as Pharus’s sporty roommate AJ. But Dominic Smith as Pharus has the star turn here…the more the play goes on, the more Smith chimes with it, the more we see both the effort of staying refined…It’s a show of fine constituent parts that don’t quite coalesce. But this is a smart, memorable attempt at something we’ve not seen before.
History and secret histories, the things that free us and the things that tie us to the past are all examined in this exhilarating, multi-layered new play from Tarell Alvin McCraney…Threaded with searing gospel songs, McCraney's play examines the shifting nature of truths, biblical and otherwise, and cleverly manipulates the hot-house setting to consider wider issues of black American history, from the brutal days of slavery to Obama's cry of "Yes, we can!" Ultz's design, encompassing schoolhall, showers and dorms, creates the intimacy the play demands, Dominic Cooke directs with delicacy and an iron grip, and the cast make this play about hate and love genuinely sizzle.
...The script’s pacing and the characters’ motivation are often both oddly off-kilter, even though McCraney captures perceptively the pressures of a hothouse boarding school environment…Despite the bumps in the road of the writing, Cooke directs stylishly and there’s lovely close-harmony singing throughout (top marks to musical director Colin Vassell). Ultz’s omni-purpose school set sweeps us cleverly through elements of changing rooms, dormitories and great hall…The design is engagingly all-encompassing but like the play itself offers no sense of these boys’ place in wider, Obama-led American society. What they will do once they leave is anyone’s guess.
…This fascinating play gets an excellent production from Dominic Cooke in his final season as artistic director. Designer Ultz has turned the studio space into a school environment with the audience ranked like parents at a prize-giving. Of the young cast, several of whom make their debuts, newcomer Dominic Smith shines as Pharus and Eric Kofi Abrefa is a powerful Bobby. Similarly impressive are Khali Best (AJ), Aron Julius (David) and Kwayedza Kureya (Junior), while Gary McDonald and David Burke are convincing as headmaster Morrow and Pendleton. With music beautifully arranged by Colin Vassell, this is an emotionally engaging and thought-provoking drama.