Tuesday, 28 October 2008

IN THE RED AND BROWN WATER @ The Young Vic, London

By Tarell Alvin McCraney
Directed by Walter Meierjohann
Designed by Mirian Buether
Lighting by Jean Kalman
Music by Abram Wilson
Sound by Fergus O'Hare

With: Adjoa Andoh, Camilla Beeput, Sheri-An Davis, John MacMillan, Cecilia Noble, Javone Prince, Paul Thornlet, Ony Uhiara, Ashley Walters, Abram Wilson

The second of the Size plays, In the Red and Brown Water introduces us to two characters we know well already, Ogun and Elegba, the archetypal Brothers Size, from McCraney's previous play in addition to the majors players in the piece, all new two us. Somehow the conceits that work beautifully in that piece do not sit quite right in the puzzle that is In the Red and Brown Water. This is not to say that there are not many heartfelt and lovely moments- this is a playwright that thrives on the rhythm and sensuality of the text after all- but somehow in this much larger story and cast, something gets lost every time an actor intones their stage directions. We are pulled uncomfortably out of the gorgeous world of McCraney and uncomfortably aware of where we are and how nothing is real.

The mainstage at the Young Vic has been flooded with several inches of water for this production. This reliably leads to some stunning visuals, underused in this case. The water, the live music, the actors in the wings, the giant fan hanging from the ceiling-- all of these are only effective if used all out. To half ass such a strong choice is to make it seem negotiable rather than integral. The company is clearly working quite hard, but the Louisiana accents elude almost everyone and there seems that some of the soul has been stripped from the text thanks to this misfortune.

If this play had been one act it would have been exponentially more enjoyable for me. Strong choices were made by the playwright and the production team, but at their hearts, McCraney's plays are myths and parables. They are made to be melodramatic and powerful with a strong sense of ritual. The more concise you can keep this, the more strength it will gain.

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