American Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brothers Size was one of the highlights
of the theatregoing year in 2007.
A simply staged and sensitive exploration
of brotherhood, it signalled the arrival of a new and original voice on the
London stage. Then came another emotionally charged piece (In the Red and
Brown Water) before McCraney changed tactics with the flamboyantly
entertaining but loosely structured Wig Out!
American Trade, his new work as Playwright in Residence with the Royal
Shakespeare Company, is as short as his breakthrough play, but – despite
vivacity, pace and vivid performances – this relentless parade of characters
on the make lacks substance.
Inspired by Restoration comedy and fed by McCraney’s own observations during
his time over here, it follows mixed-race hustler Pharus from New York to
London where he flees to escape the unwanted attentions of record mogul
Taken under the wing of his white great aunt (Sheila Reid) – who
runs a PR agency but wants to expand into the world of modelling – he
recruits his own ragbag of multiracial hookers, putting his cousin’s nose
out of joint in the process as they vie to inherit the business.
McCraney makes the point that people aren’t always what they seem to be –
and there’s intermittent wit as well as the occasional hint of a poetic
voice in the dialogue. But although Tunji Kasim’s Pharus radiates enough
charm to explain his appeal to both sexes, Jamie Lloyd’s colour-block
production feels more like an assault than an amusing evening out and it’s
ironic that McCraney previously found more fruitful inspiration in the
deprived, muddy backwaters of Louisiana than he has in the gaudy excesses of
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– Louise Kingsley