Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney is the man behind the film which eventually, after a very public and embarrassing kerfuffle on stage at the Academy Awards, won the Oscar for Best Picture last year. The Brothers Size shares something of Moonlight: it’s a coming-of-age tale focusing on young black men, this time in Louisiana, trying to find their way.
The Brothers Size is a succinct snapshot, with writing so taut and intense that it picks you up at the beginning and doesn't let you down until its end, 90 minutes later. It follows Oshoosi Size, back from prison and living with his brother Ogun, who runs a car repair shop and is trying to get Oshoosi onto the straight and narrow. Turning up on the sidelines is Elegba, Oshoosi's best friend and one-time fellow prison inmate who can't and won't leave him alone and whose appearance, according to Ogun, spells trouble.
It's set over a few days, and not a huge amount, until the end, happens, but it speaks volumes. The piece paints a striking portrait of the inherent connection and love between two brothers. Ogun and Oshoosi argue all the time – the older brother nags at his sibling, who he all but brought up, to get up, go out, work. But the bond that holds them together is strong, deep and truthful. "I can't never be his brother like you his brother" says Elegba at one point. It’s this which underpins the whole play: what are those almost mystical ties that bind us to our brothers and sisters?
Bijan Sheibani's production is revived following a run at the same theatre in 2007 and 2008 and it is magnificent. A huge chalk circle penning in the action is drawn on the floor and red dust, a nod to Yoruba traditions, is scattered about the stage in the beginning moments. From then the piece becomes a kind of tangible, real fable. We are told the story by the characters, who speak the stage directions and actions, as well as their dialogue. Sheibani's use of movement – rhythmical, slow running, mime – all adds to the feeling of ritual. But what the three characters talk about is grounded in real life: the struggle to get by in a place where the line between being free and being locked up is a fine one.
The three performances are beautifully realised. Sope Dirisu is a quiet, centred older brother, whose constant nagging at Oshoosi comes from a desperate need to try to protect his brother. Anthony Welsh delivers the pivotal, most beautiful lines of the piece, he returns to this production and this role after making his professional debut in it ten years ago and you can see why. He makes his moments sing. Jonathan Ajayi, in his first job out of drama school, is infused with a sparky, incessant energy as Oshoosi who, though a grown man, is like a little boy.
It’s a haunting, poetic and beautiful piece which speaks universally about oppression, love, family and freedom.
The Brothers Size runs at the Young Vic until 14 February.